EAST COUNTY — Ali Alger finds it easy to set aside her bubbly personality and play a mean girl.
The 15-year-old, who has been involved with a local filmmaking group for two years and played a role in a 2012 film the group produced, loves to portray a character nothing like herself.
Her latest gig is no exception.
“I’d describe (my character) as obnoxious and rude to everyone,” Alger said, looking to her on-screen co-“mean girl,” Carrie Dutting, for verification. “It was fun to act that way.”
This time, Alger’s portrayal of a teenage bully named Sadie may have been a part of an award-winning film.
“Safe,” the 13-minute film Alger and 20 other students made, received a nomination for the children’s category of the Toronto International Film and Video Awards. The group expects to hear if it won over the two other finalists, teams of students from Taiwan and the United Kingdom, by mid-June.
Thus far, the film has been nominated for six international film festivals, which include the Sarasota Film Festival Hollywood Nights program and the Socially Relevant New York Film Festival.
The students made “Safe” as part of Inspired Minds’ annual two-week filmmaking summer camp. Heather Manley and Helaine Grant founded the organization to teach children in grades three through 11 how to act in and produce films with positive messages.
Each film from Inspired Minds addresses a social issue important to the students, such as bullying and making ethical choices. Manley asks the children what issues they have on their minds and uses their responses to come up with movie ideas.
“They (students) gave the idea of doing the right thing when no one is watching,” Manley said. “So, we incorporated that into the film. We decided to do ‘Safe’ to explore questions about what it means to do the right thing and how it is easy to do the right thing when you are rewarded. What really defines a person’s character is what they do when it’s difficult or dangerous to do what’s right.”
At the camp, students audition for roles and learn scripts during the first week and act out scenes and film the movie the second week.
For three years, Manley and Grant have reserved classrooms at area schools to provide venues for the camp and filmmaking process.
From July 22 through Aug. 1, the students took over a few classrooms, the cafeteria and other parts of Braden River Elementary, to turn the East County school into a safe haven for their newest film.
Film participants held metal shutters over the outside of classroom windows to bring to life the school building that keeps its students safe — no matter what.
“Safe” illustrates the story of what happens when students become trapped for five days in a school structurally designed to withstand natural disasters, intruders and other dangers.
Manley sees the film as a modern spin on William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies,” because of the theme of youth captivity in both stories.
Some characters became withdrawn and hid in corners, while others, such as Alger’s Sadie, focused on survival and self-preservation.
For Braden River High student Haley Legg, who helped Manley write the script, one of her favorite scenes shows a fight between girls in the cafeteria over food.
To Legg, the scene represents an idea that spans generations, one to which all age groups can relate — being a good person is important, even under dire circumstances.
It also brought to life another question on the filmmaking students’ minds.
“It’s an eye-opener,” Legg said. “It makes you think, ‘Is anyone ever really safe? And how safe were those kids (in the movie), really?’ They could have been safe from the outside world, but were they safe from each other?”
Contact Amanda Sebastiano at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to register
Inspired Minds is accepting registration for students in third through 11th grades for its 2014 summer camp, held July 7 through July 17, at Gene Witt Elementary. Call 807-1303 for more information.
To view films created by students through the Inspired Minds program, visit inspiredminds.us.