Sometimes a big event changes someone’s life. For 2 Bridgeport teenagers it was attending Sundance last year, meeting directors and actors, and returning home with confidence that they too can make films.
Sometimes a little event is life-changing. Another group of Bridgeport students needed a police officer and his car for their PSA on graffiti. One morning spent with a real cop opened their eyes to a whole different world.
None of those experiences — and many more — would be possible without the help of Sandy Lefkowitz, and a committed group of Westporters.
Sandy is a longtime educator. When she was coordinator of the Westport Youth Film Festival, she created filmmaking curricula. The Westport Sunrise Rotary asked her to help with their project involving youth from disadvantaged areas.
Sandy worked with Sarah Litty — an art teacher at Bridgeport charter school Bridge Academy — to develop a 35-week, seniors-only Art of Filmmaking course. An after-school club for all students soon followed.
Help came from many sources. Sunrise Rotary, the Fairfield County Community Foundation, MSG Varsity and others donated money. Award-winning screenwriter Patrick McCullough — a Staples grad — was hired.
Now armed with Macs, cameras and other equipment, the Bridgeport students leaped in. They studied scriptwriting, storyboard creation, film shooting and editing.
They learned well. The more they accomplished, the more opportunities they earned. After Sundance, Sandy took students to the Berkshire International Film Festival. Two were chosen for a prestigious Wesleyan program.
They walked through every door that opened. Perhaps not confidently at first — but by the time walked back out they felt independent, and aware of all they can do.
Their filmmaking has impacted all of Bridge Academy. Their peers see them as successful, while teachers in other subjects incorporate their talents into lesson plans.
An English class, for example, used film in a project on the civil rights movement. Before beginning, students learned how to conduct an interview.
Junior girls in another class made a film on nutrition. Sandy took them to an organic meat farm, and a hospital to meet a nutritionist. “They’re using resources outside their community, to bring something back to their community,” she notes.
Another resource is Westporter Anita Schorr. The Holocaust survivor met Bridge students at a Westport Country Playhouse production of “The Diary of Anne Frank.” They invited her to their school, and filmed her presentation. Now they’re creating a documentary on her experiences, with hopes of distributing it to classrooms nationwide.
The Academy’s film program has been a true bridge — between students and the rest of the school and city, and between Bridgeport and Westport. Two Bridge students now sit on the WYFF board. Others are collaborating with WYFF (and Westport writer/director Doug Tirola) on a promotional film about the arts.
“They see themselves as colleagues,” Sandy says proudly.
And — one day — they may be back at Sundance, debuting a film to an international audience.
(The Art of Filmmaking and Westport Youth Film Festival are programs of the Westport Arts Center, and receive funding from WAC’s fundraising efforts.)