Summer 2016 filled and burst with something other than the usual sticky sidewalk laziness for some high school students this time around. Sun block came in the form of large cameras, boom mics and behind-the-scenes set production.
Brandon Vega, a 16-year-old junior at Von Steuben Metropolitan High School, lives in Palmer Square and was one of the many students to participate in Fresh Films, a non-profit division of Dreaming Tree Films, in which high school students power the making of a feature film.
Fresh Films was founded in 2002 by Kelli Feigley and her husband, and they received a grant from After School Matters, a program working to develop cultural activities for the city’s teenagers in Chicago Public Schools.
The Feigleys were originally teaching film in a lecture style after school, before realizing that getting the students to actually participate would be more effective in encouraging their passions.
Traveling Without Moving, this summer’s Fresh Films production, was created with an entire set of teenagers. The science fiction feature tells the story of three teens on a mission to find their missing parents in another world. About teens and created by teens, Traveling Without Moving fulfills the mission statement of Fresh Films.
Feigley, 45, is the managing director of Dreaming Tree Films and the producer of Traveling Without Moving. She worked with Vega and other students from Von Steuben, as well as students from all over the country, to turn the distant fantasy of the film world into a budding reality for young people.
“[The] media and entertainment industry is huge, billions of dollars [and] all these jobs, and so if we can expose teens to that early, they can realize all the possibilities. It’s not just up on a pedestal. There’s real jobs and real opportunities for people,” Feigley said. “We all have that fire, that moment when we got lit up about something and realized what we wanted to do, and Fresh Films does that for these kids.”
Vega became interested in the program with a little push from his mother. Although Vega himself isn’t sure if he will pursue a career in the film industry, it opened up options for him that he didn’t even know he had before.
“She [my mom] makes me worry about myself and the future because I know that now I’m building what I have for the future,” Vega said. “I like movies because you’re a small part of what’s happening [to] make a bigger picture.”
Whether Vega becomes a film student or a firefighter, there’s a valuable lesson to be learned in a large team of people working together toward a single end goal. Fresh Films provides these lessons for students, film connoisseurs or not.
“It’s about building confidence and working with a team and [gaining] tech experience. We’re not trying to build a team of Spielbergs,” Feigley said.
Although a summer program, Fresh Films comes into the high school classrooms during the school year to do career exploration with students.
Even for those who don’t enter the larger world of film, the positive effects and interest show in the number of high school students who return to intern with Fresh Films later in their lives. Without the high school students and returning interns alike, Fresh Films wouldn’t be able to churn out the feature films that they have, according to Feigley.
Traveling Without Moving is now available on Amazon, and will be screened at schools and theaters throughout Chicago beginning January 2017. The movie will be released nationally on TV in mid-2017.
An advanced copy of the DVD can be found on Fresh Film’s website before the feature is released nationally. All of the proceeds go straight back into the program in order to create more student-made films in the future.