A short film based in Media and shot around Delaware County that tackles teenager sexual identity and school shootings has claimed another award at a local film festival.
The film “Closeted” claimed the audience award in the youth 11-17 category at the BlackStar Film Festival at the close of its eighth outing in Philadelphia on Aug. 6, another prize added to the teenage filmmakers' budding resumes after claiming a similar award during the Media Film Festival in the spring.
“Closeted” is a nine-minute short about a young girl coming to terms with her sexuality and her survival inside a school closet during an active shooter event.
“It was extremely surprising. In that film block there were really good films,” said MyFi instructor Darryl Ridgeway of the BlackStar win for 'Closeted.' “I didn’t submit ‘Closeted’ with the anticipation of winning an award, I just wanted them to get that experience of having a film submitted and approved outside of Media.”
Produced through the Media Arts Council’s Media Youth Film Initiative (MyFi), “Closeted” was entirely conceptualized and made by the high school students enrolled in the program’s fall 2018 session.
“We challenged the kids to talk about their life. ‘Closeted’ was presented to us by one of the students,” said Ridgeway, whose daughter, Danielle, served as an assistant director on the film. “We had conversations about school shootings and this thing came out about the news always talking about the shooter, the family and the person needs mental help, but they (the MyFi students) felt that the victims always got lost in the shooter's story.”
The bulk of the film takes place in a non-descript school closet as the lead actress hears the gunshots go off around her. She listens for safety and observes changes in lighting patterns piercing through slats in the closet door into her darkened space. Not once in the film is the shooter seen, his gun visibly fired or blood splattered. Sound design and editing build the tension for a brief glimpse into one survivor’s actual experience.
The direction for "Closeted" is a far cry from what is usually put in film or TV that involves a mass shooting, certainly when a school is the setting. Films like the 2003 Cannes Palme d’Or-winner “Elephant,” Denis Villeneuve’s French-Canadian “Polytechnique” and last year’s musical drama “Vox Lux” all feature at least one graphic sequence of a school shooting with emphasis on the shooting and the shooters themselves. For once, a survivor, and the survivor only, is the focus of such a story, and a story created by a young population that has been under attack by school mass violence including Sandy Hook, Parkland and Columbine.
“They purposely shot this film to take the people through the experience of the victim, the student,” said Ridgeway.
Audience feedback from the Media Film Festival in April was enthusiastic for the students taking this creative approach to telling this story, earning the filmmakers the catch-all audience award for the festival’s Friday night programming. The filmmakers left “Closeted” untouched after Media when it was submitted to BlackStar for festival consideration. Ridgeway said it is looking to submit the film into other festivals.
“Closeted” was a thematically dense film that would be a challenge for adults to handle correctly, let alone teenagers. But Ridgeway, with MyFi instructor and Villanova communications professor Hezekiah Lewis, allows the MyFi program to let teenagers tell the stories that are important to them with the support of these professional filmmakers. Ridgeway estimated that 95 percent of the creative control was left with the students on this project.
“Once they come into the class they close the door; this is their world. If you’re going to create something, it’s in perpetuity. Create something that will create an impact on society. They gravitate toward it,” he said. “It’s important for kids to have a platform that they feel safe in to talk about their stories, or things going on in their lives that they can put in a formal presentation, whether it be a film, a book, whatever, and feel comfortable about sharing it.
“Their voices matter.”