Student Filmmakers Wrap Up Shoot Before Saturday Premiere

Aug. 9, 2007 — "Cheyenne," Jose says, dead serious, "don't listen to …." Jose doesn't finish the line as he cracks up, sitting in the sand at Brewers Bay with ice water trickling down his neck.
"OK, action," yells 16-year-old director Calis Cuthbert as the laughing subsides and the students resume their posts.
Monae Clarke, a tall 14-year-old, remains focused, squatting in front of the actors, a heavy, serious-looking camera hoisted on her shoulder.
It's all part of wrapping up the last beach scenes for Saturday night's premier of "Torn," this year's project by the Youth Moviemaking Workshop, sponsored by the Reichhold Center for the Arts. The 12 students, junior high or high school students, range between 13 and 17 years old.
Denise Humphrey, co-director of the Reichhold Center, instructs the crew: "Don't make him laugh again." She tells Jose (Brandon Wadsworth, 14), "This is a test of your acting skills."
The story, conceived by the young filmmakers, explores relationships in two different cultures. Jose is on St. Thomas with his teammates from the Dominican Republic for a baseball tournament. His teammates object to Jose befriending Cheyenne. "They have a big blowup, and Jose gets beaten up," Humphrey explains. And that's where we find him nursing his wounds on the beach.
Cheyenne (Jasmine Lindquist-Jean Baptiste, 13) come to the rescue, bringing Jose ice and solace. Or she tries to, at least.
"Cut," Cuthbertson yells once again. He looks at the unfortunate sound person holding a boom microphone over his shoulder.
"It got in the camera shot," Cuthbertson says. "How could you do that?" Noise is an issue in the filming, because Brewers Beach is located between the airport runway and the road.
Finally Cheyenne brings Jose his ice bag and gently pats him with it. Jose looks soulfully at Cheyenne and takes her hand. "You know, Cheyenne," he begins again, "not all St. Thomas girls are mean, and we shouldn't let what anybody says stop us from being friends.”
Off camera, Lindquist Jean-Baptiste explains: "We have some mean girls in the movie, but I'm not one of them." How does it feel to be a leading lady? "Wow, leading lady?” She gives her hair a coquettish toss.
In fact, Jean-Baptiste wasn't originally going to play the lead. She is a diminutive rising ninth grader who, at first glance, seems a bit shy. Wrong.
"The girl who was supposed to play Cheyenne was too shy," the young actress says. "I'm not shy, and I can act."
"Put on your uniform," Humphrey instructs the leading lady. She grunts. "I hate it," she says. “It doesn't even have buttons." When the uniform came from a St. Croix supply store, it was too big, Humphrey explains.
"We didn't have time to order another one, so I found this Hawaiian shirt, and it will have to do," he says.
Though the students are perfectly at ease with one another, things move fast. And things change. It keeps them on their toes. Larise Joasil, 14, the assistant director, knows. "It's hard," she admits. "We are able to see how difficult the process is, and you get to experience leadership." Would she do it again? "Oh, yes."
Humphrey and freelance filmmaker Anula Shetty are directing the director and the other film crew. "She is my mentor," Humphrey says of Shetty as they stroll down the beach together."We have worked together for three seasons now. Everything I've learned, I've learned from her."
Humphrey met Shetty when the project got a grant from the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation Artists and Communities program in 2002. "Before that, David (Edgecombe, former Reichhold director) and I operated on bare bones," Humphrey says. “We needed everything, but we were determined to make it work."
Shetty is thoroughly at home with the locale and the students. What Shetty doesn't know about making films probably isn't worth mentioning. "I love film," she says, and it shows. Shetty has an MFA in film from Temple University in Philadelphia. "I'm making documentaries now," she says, "mostly on social issues."
She and her husband, Michael Kuetmeyer, a professor in the Temple film and media arts program, love the summer program. He brings his technical talents to the territory. "He gives them hands-on experience using state of the art equipment," Humphrey says. "I believe in letting the students use the most sophisticated equipment, from the best we can get.”
Young people are accustomed to advanced technology, she says.
"If they can all do those computer games that I cannot do, they can learn to use this equipment,” Humphrey says. “We push them as far as they can go."
“These cameras cost about $5,000," she says, gesturing toward Monae, who still wields the heavy camera down the beach.
"Torn" touches on cultural issues, a sophisticated concept for the youngsters. "They thought it up," Humprhey says. "They learn concepts beyond their years. They have to learn how to make the audience understand what they are saying, what they can comprehend."
The students have three weeks from the first story idea to the final screening. "We have a brainstorming session to begin with, and they each write their ideas for a film, and they vote on it,” Humphrey says. “It turned out they have similar ideas. The person with the main story gets to write it, but this time we have four writers."
Humphrey, who taught at Charlotte Amalie High School for six years before coming to the Reichhold, trusts her instincts. "When we screen the kids for the program, I don't even look at grades," she says. "I found at CAHS that students who might fail in English or math often excelled in creative projects. You have to go with what you see, what you feel.”
On Wednesday the group interrupted the editing process to shoot the last two beach scenes, which weather had prevented earlier in the week. As she moves on down Brewers, Humphrey explains what's going on.
"This is what we call an establishing scene," she says. The Dominican baseball team frolicks down the beach, with Cheyenne and Jose trailing along behind them. Something gets Humphrey's attention.
"Hey, Je'Ronn," she yells at one of the dancing boys. "Watch those moves. Remember, you are not from St. Thomas. You don't know about Jam Band."
The movie premiers at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Reichhold Center for the Arts. Admission is free.
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