Students’ Short Films Win Big Awards

The Greenhill film Seawolf won the top prize for student films in March at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin.
The Greenhill short film Seawolf won the top prize for student films in March at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin.

Editor’s note: A version of this story appears in the April edition of Preston Hollow People.

There aren’t any Oscar statuettes in the trophy case at Greenhill School, nor are there any big-budget movie studio offices, but there might be some future members of Hollywood’s finest walking the hallways.

The school has become a hotbed for student filmmakers thanks to a visual-arts program that has given students a rare opportunity to make short films and have them screened in front of an audience.

In March, Greenhill had five shorts screen as part of a statewide compilation of student films at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin. And on Sunday, three others will be shown as part of a similar compendium at the Dallas International Film Festival.

The projects are produced and edited entirely by students as part of a film program that has gradually seen the quantity and quality of its works increase.

“The last couple of years have been really exceptional,” said Greenhill visual-arts teacher Corbin Doyle. “There’s definitely a ratio of kids leaving Greenhill that go to film schools now.”

Greenhill sent in its first film to SXSW six years ago, and has had at least one film accepted every year since, including seven in the past two years. The program won the top prize in Austin in 2012 for Boom, and again this year for Seawolf, which was directed by Caila Pickett and recent Greenhill graduate Max Montoya.

That success seemed unlikely 16 years ago, when Doyle launched a middle-school video production class on a one-trimester trial basis. He started teaching upper-school classes a few years later.

Now, Doyle still teaches the middle-school class in addition to three high school film classes — beginning video production, stop-motion animation, and advanced video production.

Those three classes have a combined 55 students this year, as well as an alumni base that has gone on to prestigious film schools as SMU, Tisch, NYU, University of Texas, and USC.

“They’re a rambunctious, hearty group of folks that are pretty voracious filmmakers,” Doyle said. “It’s not chemistry. It’s a little easier sell to get a few kids to be goofy with cameras. We just have some very creative and talented folks at Greenhill.”

Other private schools in the area also have become known for their burgeoning film programs. St. Mark’s had two projects in the SXSW showcase, while the Dallas festival will include two films from Hockaday and one from ESD.

Greenhill siblings Alex and Ben Weinberg collaborated on The Power of Funk, a four-minute comedy that will screen at DIFF on Sunday at the Perot Museum. Alex said that while most of the ideas in the class don’t amount to much, sometimes the smallest projects are the biggest surprises.

“Even the silly ideas teach us a lot,” he said.

Jade Basinski co-directed Just Your Average Joe, a stop-motion short that also will screen at the Dallas festival. She visited SXSW last year and had the chance to visit with other animators.

“I could talk to them and they didn’t talk down to you. They were successful but not very well-known,” Basinski said. “I’d love to go into the business, but I don’t know if I could manage to do it.”

Doyle said the film-festival crowd usually is impressed with the high production values, as well as the skill of the actors and crew. Some festival screenings allow the filmmakers to answer questions from the audience afterward.

“Every movie that we make has an audience that appreciates it,” Ben Weinberg said. “When there is that one that gets appreciation outside the class, that’s a cool feeling.”

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