“A Serious Student” steals the spotlight at 10th annual Film Festival


Mr. Alan welcomes the audience to the 10th Annual Film Festival Awards Night

James Cullinane


Mr. Alan welcomes the audience to the 10th Annual Film Festival Awards Night

When English teacher Michael Alan conjured up the initial plan to host a student-run film festival at Walpole High School a decade ago, it is hard to imagine that he could have foreseen the success that lay ahead.  Who could have predicted that this young upstart’s vision would not only come to fruition but withstand the test of time?  By building the Film Festival into one of the high school’s most exciting annual events, Mr. Alan set himself apart from the average idealistic visionary.  After all, anyone can have an idea; the hard part is the execution and fulfillment.  All in attendance at the 10th Annual Film Festival Award Show — or “Thursday Night” as it is affectionately known by Alan’s clan of filmmakers — witnessed the near flawless execution of Alan’s plan.

The spectacle that is Thursday Night brings about a transformation of Walpole High School; the front walk way, lobby, staircases, science wing lobby, and auditorium — all things associated by students with the mundane nature of everyday life are renovated to resemble a venue similar to the iconic Kodak theater.

Alan masterfully creates an utterly captivating atmosphere at the annual pre-show red carpet; he does so by not only draping the front walk way with the aforementioned red carpet, but also by having those involved in the film be dropped off by local limo services.  Awaiting their arrival is the paparazzi comprised of journalism students from the high school.  To even further convince those walking the red carpet of their celebrity status, Alan employed senior journalism student Christina Freiberger to do her best Joan Rivers impersonation, doing on-screen interviews with each film’s cast and crew.  This hoopla — combined with velvet ropes, constant flash bulbs, and fancy clothing — made the 2012 red carpet event one of the most exciting in recent memory.

As the last film crew finished their walk down the red carpet, the pre-show spectacle began to give way to the awards night itself.  Following the playing of the four best picture nominated films, emcee Dan Mullaney, who is another mainstay of the event, passed podium duties over to Mr. Alan, who delivered the opening remarks.  Alan reflected on the strides made by the film program over the past decade before the revelation of the inaugural Tom Brown Lifetime Achievement Award.

The first ever recipient of the Tom Brown award was Mr. Chris Jean, a history teacher and seasoned actor in the Film Festival.  In his acceptance speech, with his trademarked eccentric hilarity, Jean joked, “I don’t know who St. Martin slept with […] More power to him, the Superintendent is an attractive man.”  This remark (and most likely the award itself) was the product of Jean’s inability to bring home the coveted Best Faculty Performance award, which Mr. David St. Martin captured last year.  However, in a more serious tone, Jean later added that his support of the Film Festival was never driven by the prospects of winning an award, saying, “the process is the privilege” when it comes to the film festival.

Following Jean’s charismatic acceptance speech, the award for Best Editing was given out to senior Dan Meyers and juniors Erin Batchelder and Ryan Erwin for their work on “A Serious Student.”  This trio would be no stranger to the acceptance podium, bringing home four trophies, or “Alans” as they have become known.

One of the areas in which the film festival has made the longest leaps over the past ten years is music.  Soundtracks to movies and trailers are supplied by film students who specialize in musical production.  Competition was stiff in this category, and most expected senior Pat Maloney, who had already won the award for Achievement in Music in past festivals, to take home the Alan. However, it was junior Chris Nee who heard his named called.  Following the show, Nee said, “It was cool getting up there.  I didn’t expect to win, so I had nothing to say.”

The next group of winners to grace the podium was certainly not at a loss for words.  Awarded for their efforts put into the Art Direction of “Adorn: The Final Chapter,” senior Kim Ciardiello, senior CJ Tempesta and junior Steph Barmakian gave a heartfelt speech regarding Ms. Laura Kerr, an English teacher who donates countless hours to oversee the Art Direction of every film.

One of the most under publicized and under appreciated aspects of the filmmaking process, those in charge of art direction handle the burden of assuring that the set, costumes, and props are ready to shoot.   Another aspect of the films that is often overlooked is screenplay writing; though it is arguably the most important step in producing a quality film, the attention tends to fall more on actors.  The aforementioned Meyers made his second trip to the podium after receiving the award for Best Screenplay for A Serious Student, a film he wrote, co-directed, and starred.

The star of the show in terms of acting was senior Justin Connolly, who impressively won the awards for both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor.  Being in two movies is impressive enough when considering the time taken to complete each film, but Connolly truly stole the show by excelling in both “Triple Dog Dare” and “The Full Windsor.”  In his acceptance speech, Connolly credited Film Festival alum Matt Landry for molding him into the actor he is today.  Landry, who is pursuing a career in acting, returned to the Film Festival to give acting lessons to the major actors in each movie.  Furthermore, Connolly gave one of the most entertaining speeches of the night, joking towards director Jen Sifferlen from the podium: “Jenny Siff, I love you…Even though at times you probably wanted to step on me.”

When the laughter stemming from Connolly’s speech finally came to a halt, the award for Best Director was handed out.  The theme of the night continued, with Meyers, Batchelder, and Erwin returning to the stage to claim “A Serious Student’s” third award of the night.

Many in the audience believed the time may have come for Mr. Jean to finally win the award for Best Faculty Performance as he, along with Mr. Fiske, Mr. Connor, Mr. Ferro, Mr. O’Malley, Mr. Balkus, and Mr. Hahn all received nominations; however, these theorists would prove incorrect, as Mr. Connor was rewarded for his performance alongside Connolly in “The Full Windsor.”  After jumping onto the stage and cart-wheeling to the podium, Mr. Connor delivered the longest speech of the night.  Mr. Connor described his attitude towards Film Festival by saying, “I love being in movies.  I’ll say almost anything.  I’ll do almost anything.”  Furthermore, he also joked that he was “glad Justin Connolly wasn’t nominated for this award.”  While Connolly certainly stood center stage in “The Full Windsor,” Mr. Connor was duly recognized for his performance.

In the category that catapults certain films into the realm of Film Festival immortality — Best Picture — the four nominated films were “Adorn: The Final Chapter,” “The Weaver Report,” “The Full Windsor,” and “A Serious Student.”  To nobody’s surprise, the award was once again given to Meyers, Batchelder, Erwin, and company for “A Serious Student,” a dark comedy that delves into the realities of high school rules and regulations.

While what occured in the auditorium on this mid-may Thursday Night was certainly a time of great jubilation and excitement for those involved, the true accomplishment of the Film Festival is its longevity.  Its blueprint was born out of a dream.  The likelihood of its success must have seemed bleak in many regards.  However, all of these doubts were officially hurled aside at the 10th Annual Film Festival; it is here to stay, as the support of students and teachers has bestowed upon Alan’s program an air of immortality.