Civic Life Project brings hefty topics to life

Topical issues, from the heart, in films by teens
June 9, 2017
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August 4, 2017

Civic Life Project brings hefty topics to life

By Ashlee Baldwin

Nearly 50 people gathered in the Community Room at Noble Horizons on Tuesday, May 30, to watch a series of student films. 

The six documentaries were produced as part of the Civic Life Project, a high school documentary filmmaking initiative run by documentarian Dominique Lasseur, a Cornwall resident. It is taught as a multi-curricular course for seniors at Housatonic Valley Regional High School (HVRHS) by social studies teacher John Lizzi and English department Chair Damon Osora.

The first film to be shown was “1033: Civilian Soldiers” by Hunter Riley, Will Guillen, Nick Swanson and Blake Buckley. The film centered on the subject of police militarization and featured interviews with state Rep. Brian Ohler (R-64) of North Canaan and Salisbury Resident State Trooper Christopher Sorrell. Its title comes from the 1033 program, which allows for the use of military equipment, from office supplies to firearms, by police when departments cannot afford it themselves.

“High School,” by Kailyn Reilly, Sarah Coolbeth, Anna Besmer and Danielle Wilkinson, discussed the use of addictive substances in high schools. A poll of HVRHS students showed that roughly 80 percent used alcohol and up to 12 percent had tried cocaine. 

Health teacher Lindsley Colligan was quoted in the film saying, “When I started here, we did not have heroin as part of our curriculum, and we do now.”  The film also talked about the implementation of Project Purple, an initiative to keep children and teens away from drugs and alcohol, at the high school.  “It’s about healthier ways of dealing with stress,” Reilly said after the presentation on Tuesday evening.

“The Dark Room,” which touched on the stigmas surrounding mental illness, was shown third. It was made by Molly Benack, Sharon Speck, Shelby Luminati and Sophie Lake-Ginouves. According to statistics found by the filmmakers, one in five adults suffers from mental illness. 

One student, a 2016 graduate of the high school, spoke in the film about her own struggles with mental illness. When asked what it was like to open up about such a sensitive topic on camera, she said, “It was easy because I was with my friends. To admit that you have a mental illness…it’s scary.”

There were two films that investigated different parts of the college admissions process. “The Next Step,” by Rosa Morales and Katie Stoddard, looked into the process itself and the expectations placed on college hopefuls. Their film featured interviews with Robin Beaujon, the HVRHS college and career counselor, and Mohaned Elserafy, a Housatonic senior from Cornwall who will attend the University of Connecticut in the fall. Next semester, Stoddard will attend the State University of New York at Morrisville for Agricultural Business, while Morales will  take a gap year.

The other film about the college process was “The Retention Game” by Matthew Labbadia, Ben Humiston and Elliot Gabrielson. They compared the cost of attendance at a private, public  and community college, using Quinnipiac University, Central Connecticut State University and Northwestern Connecticut Community College as their examples. 

The financial aid officers they interviewed all attributed student transfers to one of two things: finances or distance. Their focus on Quinnipiac comes at a very interesting time for the school, as a combination of rebranding and various construction projects has raised the school’s cost by a little over $3,000.

The final film of the night was “The Third-Party Dilemma” by Griffin Harney and Justin Fitch. They looked into struggles of third-party candidates on the national scale. The video itself centered on an interview with former presidential candidate Ralph Nader. When asked how they managed to secure a meeting with such a high-profile person, Harney said that it was “very difficult.”

The films will be screened at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford on Tuesday, June 6, at 4 p.m. and at The Moviehouse in Millerton on Sunday, June 11, at 11:30 a.m. (For an article on the films to be shown at The Moviehouse, in partnership with the Salisbury Forum

Civic Life Project and Youth Film Challenge