RANDOLPH, NJ- On January 16, 2014 the Randolph High School mass media program made history by taking a once in a lifetime trip to Park City, Utah to attend the Sundance Film Festival, one of the largest independent film festivals in the world.
Mass Media teachers Robert Finning and Noah Galembo came up with the idea from Galembo's past experience of going to the festival with his college film society. They both wanted to offer the amazing opportunity to their senior students and film club members.
Everyone gathered very early at the High School before taking a car ride, two flights, and a limousine ride to the beautiful town of Park City, the heart of the festival.
Once there, the group had almost three full days that were spent viewing films that often were making their world premieres at this festival, some of which included huge pop culture celebrities like Kristen Stewart, Anna Kendrick, and Jesse Eisenberg. They ranged from drama, comedy and thriller, to fantasy and musical, and each film made a significant impact on those who saw it.
After each film the director, actors, and other individuals highly involved in the film's production would answer questions from the audience, which made each presentation feel very personal. One student, Vicky Pereira, was even fortunate enough to ask acclaimed actor, director, and screenwriter Joseph Gordon-Levitt about the prospects for his independent film production company, Hit Record. Another student, Kyle Benedetti sat only rows away from his celebrity crush Tara Lynne Barr at the premiere of her short film Dawn.
The group only had a few tickets that came with their group package, but thanks to a waitlist system developed by the festival, it did not stop the group from seeing multiple films. Also because of this, students who only had one guaranteed ticket were able to see up to three of four films.
"There are a lot of moments that I'll never forget but I think the crowning jewel was taking a picture with Pitch Perfect star Anna Kendrick after seeing the world premiere of her movie Happy Christmas," said senior Raj Chidambaram, who going into the trip only had one guaranteed ticket to a film called Zip and Zap and the Marble Gang.
Some of the films that the students were able to see were not only full length feature films, but also groups of shorts and episodes by multiple different directors.
"My favorite was the shorts program," said Kayla Saunier. "I thought all of them had really good story lines...but the one short called Catherine was my favorite. It was hilarious and I cried through most of it from laughing too hard."
But while the movies were the focus of the trip, one of the most remarkable parts of the few days in Park City was getting to take in Park City itself.
"Park City is a great little ski town, and for the festival it really comes alive with film lovers and filmmakers alike," said Finning. The students stayed only minutes from Park City's main street, where there was never a lack of something to see or do.
"The fact that celebrities are walking casually on the street was pretty awesome," said Chidambaram. "Park City is well adept to hosting the festival and they did it flawlessly this year. The whole town was rich with cinematic culture."
And perhaps the best thing to come from this trip were the emotional experiences and the memories made together.
"My most memorable experience was probably coming together each night after the screenings and discussing the films we saw and sitting around the table getting to know each other better," said Finning. " I think there was a great deal of camaraderie developed over the time we were there and I know each of us will remember that as well as the films."
Students would take cars together down to the theatres, bonding over the excitement of what they were about to go and see. During the day when there were no opportunities to get on a waitlist, time was passed by walking in town together appreciating the shopping, music and art. The earliest hours of the morning were spent laughing with each other, either playing cards, having snacks, or relaxing in the hot tub.
Senior Kevin Bentancur agreed saying, "The best part of this trip just might have been the bonding experience...whether it be waking up to Jake making breakfast or meeting up with everyone for dinner and grilling, the trip was a huge success."
"The only time we argued or yelled at each other was when we were deciding rooms, which was surprising because we yell at each other during every class," said Benedetti. When taking some time away from creating, Sundance offered this group the chance to relax, enjoy each other's company, and be inspired by all that they could experience.
"The people, the experience, the weather (snow outside but sun shining) great and interesting films all made this a very successful trip. Not only educational but also inspiring," said Rina Hayat.
But the best stories may just come in the form of the films created by those who went on the trip. Each student brought back a new found inspiration and love for film after this trip, and the products of that inspiration can be seen at Randolph's own film festival, which will showcase the best that the students have to offer. The festival will take place on the evening of May 28 at Randolph High School.
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