Student Uprising

At first glance the video is a collage of images: an "addict" preparing for a fix; a shadowy, Kafkaesque "trial" (shot in the school's studio); and an "execution" sequence (shot at a nearby railroad crossing). Vo provides the voice-over, which pops up intermittently and begins with this statement, just as the addict (played by Dimick) cooks some unknown drug over a candle flame: "I think everybody's responsible for it in some way. But I'm not responsible for it in any way." Later the addict faces a tribunal and is dragged to and from the trunk of a car by two shadowy figures. "Who are you to judge me?" Vo intones. "Who are you to execute me?"

Lewis, who sees in the film influences as varied as MTV, David Lynch, and Martin Scorsese, sums ( ) up in a concise way that Vo himself would appreciate: "I thought it was about alienation."

Alienation is less of a theme in Vo's life than it used to be. Although he switched programs last year, it wasn't until recently that he found a home among his fellow video students. Last fall he aced one of DeLuz's TV-production classes but insisted on reworking the piece he'd produced "to fix a couple of things," DeLuz recalls. Seeing that the grade mattered less to Vo than the project itself, DeLuz invited him to watch the shoot for Thicker Than Water, so as to learn from the upperclassmen producing it. And sure enough, "After Thicker Than Water, that's when I decided to start doing my own stuff," Vo says.

Producing any communication arts project -- a newscast, a public-service announcement, a film, a music video -- is an expensive proposition, and the county school board and the school's fundraising arm, the Dreyfoos School Foundation, can provide only so much money and equipment. That's why an outside source of funding, such as the Palm Beach International Film Festival (PBIFF), is useful. The PBIFF is one of hundreds of film festivals in the United States, and on the surface, it does nothing to promote local filmmaking; of the 50-odd films coming from 20 countries this year, only one, The Last Marshall, has a Palm Beach County connection: It was filmed there. But as Michelle Hillery, education production coordinator for the Palm Beach County Film & Television Commission, points out, the PBIFF "is the only [festival] I'm aware of that makes money, first of all, and then donates the money to local educational programs."

A nonprofit venture, the PBIFF attracts corporate sponsorship and hosts a number of moneymaking events, including a $500-a-plate "Grand Gala" honoring professional filmmakers. Blue Lake, a corporate development company and sponsor of the student showcase, will give the student winners cash prizes ranging from $500 to $1500. Dreyfoos will receive $1000 for Vo's film, and thus far, the PBIFF has given the school $50,000 in grants, according to Hillery.

The money is sorely needed. While showing a reporter the Dreyfoos School studio, Vo, Thomas, Dimick, and Connelly explain that, until last year, the studio sat idle because of a lack of equipment. Recent donations, including the PBIFF's, have brought in some new sound, lighting, and editing machines, but the studio itself needs an overhaul. Noting the low ceiling, Dimick says: "The only thing you can do in here is closeups."

DeLuz concurs. An updated studio would allow students to shoot sitcoms, film adaptations of novels, and newscasts, and updated equipment would foster more fieldwork.

"These students need to be doing documentaries on the blues singer who lives in Riviera Beach," he says, "or the person out in the Glades who's a third-generation farmer. There's stories to be told, and we're training [these students]. But by the time they get to a certain point --"

He stops for a moment, then chuckles and asks: "What am I going to do with Vo when he's a senior?"

The Palm Beach International Film Festival takes place April 9-18. See page 36 for a schedule and the locations of screenings. A program highlighting the Student Showcase films begins at 9:30 a.m., Monday, April 12, at the Eissey Campus Theatre, Palm Beach Community College, 3160 PGA Blvd., Palm Beach Gardens. For more information call 561-233-1044.

Contact Rich Shea at his e-mail address:

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