Seattle Academy Students Recognized
at International Film Festivals
Five students, four films, one thing in common: they all attend Seattle Academy. The SAAS community has long recognized the talents of our students—this year that recognition is extending all the way to international film festivals. Where these films differ in subject and length, they were all created by the talent and ingeniousness of our students. These students are recognized for a variety of roles, including directing, cinematography, and acting. They are recognized in Plasencia Encorto Youth Film Festival in Spain; Wicked Wales Youth Film Festival in the United Kingdom; 2021 Fresh Films Fest in Ireland; and our beloved Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF). While remarkable, it certainly isn’t unbelievable. Our film faculty Cheryll Hidalgo sheds light on why: “You can imagine, 20 years doing this has given me plenty of time to establish relationships with a number of festivals. SIFF is one of the festivals I submit strong student work to each year. It is my pleasure to aid these kids in some well-deserved recognition for their efforts.” Cheryll, who teaches film courses here at SAAS, submits student work to numerous international film festivals each year. She explains that these films are produced as a final film project for class credit. For some of these students, these films are their first time behind the camera and now they are getting global recognition for their work. Jamara Putney ‘21 and Josephine Silva ‘21 are in this camp. They created their short film Melanin for a class project in 2019, and it is now being screened at this year’s SIFF. “It is amazing to have the opportunity to show what we want to our community. I hope our film has created a positive impact on the community, and I think it has,” remarks Josephine.
Melanin is included in SIFF’s Future Wave competition, part of SIFF’s Education Program for young filmmakers. Each year, Future Wave showcases a selection of youth-made media from global entries. The films are curated by Dustin Kaspar, the Education Director, who, along with a panel of judges, makes a decision about which films to screen. Though not every year, we often have at least one SAAS film included in this program. Dustin once told Cheryll that he likes Seattle Academy films and reaches out to us each year because our films often tend to lean toward the artistic, and experimental, and are always unique.
This is certainly the case, due in part to the type of personalities SAAS attracts—art focused, creative individuals—and partly due to the robust and well-funded film program we offer. Kavi Dey ‘22 joined SAAS midway through his 9th-grade year and one of his first impressions of SAAS was: “OMG, they have this amazing film program.” He has since produced several short films, two of them called -<(0)>- (pronounced “Eye”) and Crystal Clear received international recognition and accolades. He attributes his successes to the resources our film program has to offer. “Cheryll gives you any resources you need,” explains Kavi. “Lights, cameras, even if these materials are not part of a class project you still get to utilize these resources.” This freedom invites a culture of performance to permeate all areas of students’ lives, and in return we get more enthusiastic and more collaborative voices.
Let’s not forget, though, that ultimately these successes should be attributed to the students themselves. Hersh Powers ‘24 and Sophia Mitri Schloss ‘21, for example, were both cast in the feature film Potato Dreams of America—and they don’t even participate in Seattle Academy’s film program. Hersh is an avid theater and film artist. He averages three to four theater productions per year, outside of school. Inside the SAAS community, many of us know Hersh from Dance Project, End of Tri performances, dance recitals and gala performances. He took the opportunity at SAAS to explore and try new avenues, like Intermediate-Advanced Dance, since theater is such a huge part of his life outside of SAAS. This exploration is encouraged as our guiding principles here at SAAS challenge students to take risks in front of a variety of audiences. Hersh shows us the benefits of this exploration, though it wasn’t possible without the flexibility of his teachers and advisors who worked with Hersh to allow a few weeks out of the school year to film this latest project. Hersh explains, “They were adaptable, and amazing. They told me what to do; how to make it work.” Hersh also had the help of a tutor on set who helped to make sure he was doing his schoolwork on schedule.
Similarly, Sophia is not a participant of film at SAAS, but rather known for her voice. “I haven’t done theater or acting at SAAS—that world for me has existed completely outside of school, which I like because then I get to work on other things in my academic life. Artistically, I’ve focused much more on music at SAAS. I’ve been a member of the Onions for the past three years, which has been wonderful,” says Sophia. Sophia is also cast in Potato Dreams of America, which premiered at South by Southwest (SXSW) in March 2021 and will now be screened this week at SIFF from April 8-18.
These four films recognized at international film festivals this year are impressive. Each of these students have shown how important performance is to enriching our community and harvesting opportunities to connect: locally and worldwide. Huge shout-out to our film faculty for attracting artists, creating artists, and empowering our students to experiment with yet another form of expression. Read on below for in-depth glimpses of what these films are about and how our SAAS students are being recognized around the globe.
The message behind Melanin came easily for Jamara Putney ‘21 and Josephine Silva ‘21, who both have attended SAAS since Middle School. It came out of a prompt for their Beginning Film final project in 2019 which was to make a film about something that inspires you or that you think is important in your life. Their film, which was Jamara’s first time behind the camera and Josephine’s first film class, is a powerful message about how women of color are beautiful. “In Middle School, Josephine and I were aware that there were very few ladies of color in our grade. We talked a lot at the time about social media and conversations surrounding POC. Women of color are not the standard of beauty,” says Jamara. Now Melanin has been selected this year for screening as part of SIFF’s Future Wave program, starting April 8-18. “It is amazing to have this opportunity to show what we want to our community,” notes Josephine.
Melanin was shot on campus (the STREAM building, the arts center, Vanderbilt) capturing snippets of folks doing everyday activities and owning their beauty. “It is a very organic film,” says Josephine. “Everything was taken day by day. We had a lot of intention in what we were doing, the essence of everyone’s beauty in everyone’s life; how things go naturally, and how things are naturally.”
This powerful message lends itself to the growing conversations surrounding diversity at SAAS. “I am glad the film was shown in front of the whole school. It is a really important message—women of color are beautiful—and this should be included more in the messaging,” says Jamara. Josephine and Jamara were both able to attend the Student Diversity Leadership Conference in 2019. They then participated in SAAS’s MLK assembly that year, and shared with the school about their experience and their film. “I have contributed to how much SAAS has grown in diversity; it is very fulfilling,” says Jamara. “There wasn’t a Black Student Union (BSU) at the time. Now there is. SAAS has been really good at having open spaces for those that need it.”
“It is nice knowing that we created change for future SAAS,” remarks Josephine, who also notes that there is now a LatinX affinity group. “I am happy we have made some impact on the school. I would love to find ways to leave more of an impact.”
Potato Dreams of America
Two Seattle Academy Upper School students Hersh Powers ‘24 and Sophia Mitri Schloss ‘21 star in this latest film by Wes Hurley’s called Potato Dreams of America. It is a true story about a closeted Russian boy moving to Seattle; written, filmed, and directed locally. The film is an incredible autobiography about Wes Hurley (the film’s Director) who wrote his own life story about coming out and about immigrating to Seattle. It also weaves in a beautiful tale of a mother and her son, a mail-order bride and her Little Potato, and how they navigate moving to America in the ‘90s. The film, which premiered at South by Southwest (SXSW) in March will now be screened this week at SIFF from April 8-18.
Hersh plays Young Potato (young Wes Hurley) who is the star of the first half of the film. Hersh filmed entirely on a soundstage in the end of January and into February 2020, just before the pandemic restricted much of society’s movements. Hersh does a lot of theater acting and has done so professionally since the third grade. Potato Dreams of America, notably, was his first feature film.
Sophia was cast as Mandy, teenage Potato’s best friend, and she captures the screen in the second half of the film. This half was filmed around Seattle in Fall 2019. It was 10 hours or so of filming for this young actress, who is no stranger to the screen (you can also see her on Big Shot, a Disney+ original show that premieres on April 16!)
You can expect Russian accents, Space Needle shots, and views of Queen Anne. Keep an eye out for Jonathan Bennett (from Mean Girls and Cake Wars) and Lea DeLaria (from Orange is the New Black) who all make an appearance in this feature film.*Please note: The film contains some male nudity. Every family differs in what they feel is appropriate for their students, and we want to empower families to make these decisions for themselves by pointing out the unrated status of this film.
Crystal Clear & Eye
Kavi Dey ‘22 is a talented kid from Pittsburgh who relocated to Seattle with his family and began receiving international recognition the moment he signed up for film courses at Seattle Academy. His first very first film created for class credit in his Beginning Film course in 2019, called Crystal Clear, won screening and accolades from two international festivals in Europe. At the Plasencia Encorto Youth Film Festival in Spain, Crystal Clear won the Best International Cinematography Award. Kavi was supposed to travel to Spain to collect the award but the festival and trip were ultimately cancelled due to Covid-19. In the fall of 2020, Crystal Clear was also selected for screening at the Wicked Wales Youth Film Festival in the United Kingdom where it won a Highly Commended Award. These honors are not magic, though they are a recognition of the magic in Kavi’s film. Kavi loves playing around with digital effects, and he affirms that “not a lot of short films have magic.” Crystal Clear is an exploration of how you can represent magic, floating crystals and sweeping tornadoes, and that magical energy, in film.
Another film by Kavi called -<(0)>- (pronounced “Eye”) was selected for screening at the 2021 Fresh Films Festival in Ireland last month. The festival had 1000 international entries out of which only 25 were selected for screening, and Kavi’s “Eye” was one of them! “Eye” was made using only reused media that came into the public domain. Kavi took that footage and made a film about surveillance, constant surveillance (think Animal Farm and 1984). Yes, this past year’s experiences played a contributing factor considering how often we are on Zoom: the camera is always on.