AUBURN — Midway through an Edward Little High School class on documentary filmmaking, the students politely mutinied.
The 13-member class had spent weeks making movies about grandparents, neighbors and classmates. They liked the work. But they had other stories to tell.
And they told their teacher, Shawn Rice, so.
“Most of the kids said, ‘With all due respect Mr. Rice, we’re not taking the class because we love documentaries,’” Rice said. “We’re taking the class because we’re interested in filmmaking.”
The rebellion worked.
Actors replaced interviewees. Future Ken Burns and Michael Moores were replaced by Spielbergs, Scorseses and Tarantinos. The high-schoolers staged kidnappings and robberies. They made the short films they wanted.
And soon, they may be shown to the world.
Rice figures many of the class’s movies will be entered in the annual Lewiston-Auburn Film Festival’s student competition.
Last year, the contest drew the work of young people from Maine and New Hampshire, including efforts by students in Lewiston, Auburn and Fryeburg. Their 50 entries were split into two semifinal rounds, with a final competition held during the April festival. The winner was from Hermon.
This year, the format is the same, with semifinals planned for Feb. 15 and March 15.
So far, the entries have come in slowly, said Festival Director Joshua Shea.
But he has yet to hear from Rice’s class.
“Last year, we had three films,” Rice said. This year, he figures his students will enter 13 movies before the March 1 deadline.
“They’re serious about it,” Rice said of his students. “They know (the work of) directors. They know them well. They have a sense of aesthetic that they’re all trying to accomplish.”
Among the 13 ELHS movies likely headed to the festival is an almost-silent movie by 17-year-old filmmaker Ethan Gammon of Auburn. When the class made documentaries, the soft-spoken senior interviewed his dad.
When the class switched to fiction, Gammon made a pair of action comedies, each about 9 minutes long.
“They’re both silly, improvisational films, mostly made up by me and my friends on the spot,” Gammon said. In one, a pair of guys lose their sandwiches in a robbery. The other is about a home burglary with a bit of whimsy.
“It’s about two burglars breaking into the same home at the same time,” he said.
Gammon, who mentioned David Lynch and Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai as favorites, said he too wants to be a director.
One immediate positive is finding that his humor seems to translate to the screen, even if it doesn’t always work in conversation.
“I was worried when I was showing it to some students at school because I didn’t know if they’d laugh at it,” he said. “Surprisingly a lot of people laughed.”
For their fiction film, classmates Ryan Deveau and Zach Nicholson, both juniors from Auburn, created a kidnapping story. Though it’s sometimes violent, it also features a kind of victim-and-captor sing-along.
The song is the wordless Muppet tune “Mah Na Mah Na.”
“The guy who’s kidnapped begins to sing it,” Deveau said. “And the guy who abducted him begins to sing it with him. They have this moment of singing happiness and it ends with the kidnapped guy getting shot.”
The mixture of comedy and violence seemed to pop up often as the kids followed their taste, Rice said.
“All of the fiction films, all of them have violence as at least an underlying theme,” the teacher said.
For Gammon, shooting violence was kind of a practical choice, since his student actors were uncomfortable with dialogue or displaying emotion.
“I don’t know who can act, but my friends can’t,” Gammon said. “It’s easier to make them fight than have this deep back-and-forth conversation kind of thing.”
Though he liked his fiction film, Deveau found his documentary more rewarding. He and Nicholson plan to submit their film about classmate Michael Williams, who competes in real life as a martial arts fighter, to the film festival.
The documentary “Story of a Fighter” presented its own challenges. Deveau found it tough to find the narrative within 20 hours of footage, shot at several locations including Williams’ home and fight venues.
“You don’t have a storyline exactly, because you don’t know how the fight is going to end,” Deveau said.
Then, there’s the editing process.
“It’s such a tedious thing to do,” Deveau said. “At some point, you kind of want to die.”
And when it’s done, it’s tough to see its strengths.
“You’ve looked at it so long, you know its flaws,” he said.
However, Deveau’s screening went very well.
Rice marveled at the finished product.
“I get goosebumps and I’ve seen the movie five times,” he said.
Shea said he is eager to get all of the students’ films.
“Hopefully, this festival and competition is one of those things that will nudge you or inspire you if you’re a student,” he said. “I can only imagine what would have happened if they had this festival when I was young.”
As it is, the 37-year-old festival boss will be acting in one of the submissions, playing the principal in Sanford High School’s student film “#YOLO,” about teenagers involved in risky behavior. (The invitation to play the role came out of the blue, he said, but he couldn’t resist. Still, he insisted, it won’t sway the judges.)
“I know my acting will likely suck, and I know people will be very nice about it,” he said. “But it was a fun experience.”
The success of the semester-long Edward Little class has sparked Rice to plan on a yearlong Introduction to Filmmaking class for next year.
The payoff is always the same: bringing the lights down and seeing a student film for the first time. Since so much of the work happens outside the classroom, it’s sometimes Rice’s first glimpse of his students’ work.
“The evidence that these kids care and were paying attention is evident in that final cut,” he said. “The feeling of seeing this finished product — that you didn’t know if it existed or not — is absolutely magic.”
The Lewiston Auburn Film Festival
April 4-6, 2014
Tickets go on sale Monday, Feb. 10
Student Film Competition
The competition: Open to anyone under 18 as of Dec. 31, 2013, or any person under the age of 22 still enrolled in a post-secondary school. Final deadline is March 1, 2014.
Categories: Short film (10-45 minutes); micro short (0-10 minutes). Films over 45 minutes must be submitted to the main film festival judging.
Public screenings: The semi-final rounds featuring a collection of the best films submitted will take place at the University of Southern Maine Lewiston-Auburn College on Westminster Street in Lewiston on Feb. 15 and March 15, starting at 6:30 p.m. Judges will pick the finalists, which will be shown at the Lewiston Auburn Film Festival in April. The public is invited to these semi-final round screenings free of charge. Donations will be accepted.