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Green Hill High School film teacher leads student team to awards at national film festival

DeAna Duncan had taught a film class at Wilson Central High School when she was asked by Green Hill High School principal Kevin Dawson to create a completely new film program at Green Hill. Although hesitant about leaving her old film students, and unsure about starting fresh in a new school with new equipment and new students, DeAna decided to take on the challenge. Her first year at Green Hill would seem to be a resounding success, as she and her student film team are now walking away from the All American High School Film Festival, national film competition, with a first place award.

The All American High School Film Festival is the largest student film festival in the country. Held in New York City, it’s an immersive film festival experience designed just for high school and middle school students, and awards hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships and software prizes to aspiring filmmakers, animators, sports broadcasters, and documentarians. DeAna traveled to New York last year with one of her star film students, and this year she decided she wanted a full competitive team in the festival.

Over the summer, three of DeAna’s Wilson Central students were chosen for official selections in the AAHSFF; Isabelle Leonard for the drama category, Lane Stanley for the music video and drama categories, and Ellie Cagle for the podcast category. DeAna reached out to other student filmmakers, both from Green Hill and other schools in the area, and together with these initial three they formed a team of nine students that registered in the AAHSFF as the Middle Tennessee Student Film Alliance. They entered two competitions; the Music Video Challenge and the “Complete Experience” Challenge. The former assigns each team the same song to build a music video around over the course of four weeks. The latter assigns a prompt for each team to create a short film around in the same time period.

The music video, with direction by Isabelle Leonard, filming by Tyler Skrove, sound design by Ellie Cagle and Justice Skinner, production by Justice Skinner, production assistance by Mia Prouse, Cole West and Ella Hicks and starring Jaxson Wu, Rachel Brooks, Percy Brooks and Charlie Elwell told an imaginative story about a childhood toy that must seek a new identity. These students hail from schools across the area, including Green Hill High School, Wilson Central High School and others. The song for the challenge was “Are You Bored Yet?” by Wallows. This team of student filmmakers and their music video won first place in the Music Video Challenge against teams across the country, receiving a grand prize of more than $5,000 in software and media, as well as having their music video sent to Atlantic Records.

“I was actually really stressed about it because I felt like I wasn’t prepared, like I wasn’t maximizing my time,” said Isabelle Leonard, the winning director. “But it all came together. I had a vision, fleshed it out the way I saw it with the help of my team, and then scheduled it all for one weekend (mostly). I was so happy with how it turned out. I honestly wasn’t confident in my ability to direct a music video because I’m the kind of filmmaker who usually sticks with narrative dramas, and this couldn’t be further from that. It’s a nice story, a simple story, with fun visuals, and honestly? I’m so proud of what we accomplished.”

Although the Complete Experience Challenge team did not win their category, they still produced an exceptional short film. Titled For A Long Time I Loved You, it was directed by Lane Stanley, filmed by Mia Prouse and written by Brenna Fox, Ellie Cagle and Ella Hicks with an original score by Ella Hicks.

“The Complete Experience really put filmmaking in a different light,” said director Lane Stanley. “I was able to work with passionate students all over Tennessee and their excitement to film fueled mine. I was so lucky to be able to direct this project and I wouldn’t want to do it with anyone else. I’m very thankful AAHSFF and Middle TN Student film Alliance have brought me and other student filmmakers together, and I can’t wait for what’s next.”

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