By Chris Ricci
Five minutes sounds like a short amount of time, but it’s amazing how much you can learn in such a limited amount of time. Hardened filmmakers work their whole lives to craft a tale that will thrill and grip audiences for hours on end, and even then they fall short. This is what makes the Five Minute Student Documentary block so unique and powerful.
High school students from all around Massachusetts worked diligently to craft a masterful story, and the top thirteen students got a chance to show their wares to the Salem
Film Festival audience to thunderous applause.
The stories were as diverse as the ovations where the students hailed from and, together, formed narratives ranging from social justice to shark chasing. Films like “I Do Not Know Yet” dealt with the issue of gender identity in an eloquent and powerful manner, while “Can’t Touch This” allowed viewers to enter the mind of a student suffering with OCD. The avant garde was touched upon in different manners as well. “Experimentalist” documented the story of outsider-musician BJ Snowden while “Hot Sand Dance” utilized the avant medium to tell a silent story of glassblowing. Politics were also discussed, and “Black Lives Matter” documented the struggle a family faced after placing a Black Lives Matter sign on their property for the town to see, and “Cheated” gave viewers an in-depth look at how students of this generation are breaking the rules in school and cheating on work in the digital age.
The beauty of local flora and fauna were captured in the films “Know the Snow” and “Chasing Sharks” which showed the process of creating artificial snow for mountaintop sand the process of tagging and releasing wild sharks. Female athletes were a prominent fixture of this short block too, and the films “Great” and “Game Changer” chronicled the passion of a woman whose passion for Cross-Fit is inspiring others and the story of a girl who joined the high school football team that not only proved her worth, but stands as one of the best players in her school’s history. The opening, though, is a true love letter to the art of documentary film making. “Satire” brilliantly and hilariously showed a sense of self-awareness that set the tone of the screening: illustrating how documentaries are cut, paced, and shot with a brilliantly tongue-in-cheek style that not only caused strong belly laughs, but prepared everyone to take the films in no matter what.
The winners of the day were all extremely powerful and helped illustrate the genius of these young directors. The previously mentioned “Hot Sand Dance” was joined by “Finding The Words,” which documented a teenager’s battle with a crippling traumatic brain injury and “I Don’t Need U” which was an open letter from a girl whose emotional battle with her absent father has reached a boiling point.
The power and talent of these high school students is remarkable, and seeing them in a virtually sold out auditorium was not only poetic justice for an art that people think may be dying, but also reassurance for the kids who put in so much effort, and are bound for greatness.