The Quaranteen Voices filmmakers pose for a post-festival portrait.

Seven current and past San Francisco New Orleans District (SFNO) student filmmakers showcased their extraordinary reflections on their experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic in an online film festival, Quaranteen Voices, which aired as a webinar on January 27, 2021.

The film festival featured short films by Briana Beddawi, La Salle College Preparatory, Pasadena, CA ’20; Makaeo Cons-Scala and Kyle Alfon, Cathedral High School Los Angeles, CA ‘20 & ’21; Jonas Gonzales, Justin-Siena High School, Napa, CA ‘20; Annie Hoang, La Salle Catholic College Preparatory, Milwaukie, OR ’20; Mariana Garcia, Christian Brothers High School, Sacramento, CA ’21, and Zach Van Zandt, Saint Paul’s School, Covington, LA ’22.

The project, sponsored by the SFNO Office of Education and Office of Communication, was the brainchild of Communications’ digital media producer Joe Alexander-Short.  First envisioned as a simple video report from the Office of Education on the pandemic’s effects around the District, Alexander-Short spotted a much larger opportunity for story telling and especially for those who could be its best voices.

“For years I’d been hearing from Springtide Research Institute and others about the importance of deeply listening to young people if our organizations are going to stay relevant in a shifting societal landscape.  How I interpret that is that we need to take young people more seriously as co-creators, since they’re experts in this context. So I wanted to embody that in this process by bringing my initial idea to the filmmakers then asking them, what kind of film do you most want to make? What kind of film do you think would be most helpful to our communities? I’m really proud of the direction that they all took it in. The interesting thing is that the films are so similar in essence even though they were developed mostly independently.”

Watch the Quaranteen Voices trailer here.

During the festival, each student’s film was screened, followed by a panel discussion moderated by Alexander-Short and including the filmmakers and a group of Lasallian students and educators from around SFNO.  Viewers were also able to comment and ask questions via Zoom chat.

Ranging from four to twelve minutes in length, each film was a creative expression of the filmmaker’s perspective on dealing with life inside the COVID-19 bubble.

In her experimental film, WILD CHILD, Beddawi navigates the taunting of her phone and the whispers of nature to identify her authentic voice.  Cons-Scala’s and Alfon’s Tell Your Story, set in a desolate Los Angeles nearing an apocalypse, features a Senior in quarantine recording video diaries to preserve his legacy for the next generation.  5×4 is a cinematic documentary filmed from multiple perspectives in which Gonzalez ventures outdoors to reconnect with the lessons of his Kairos retreat experience.  Hoang’s The Five Stages of Quaranteen,  which was inspired by her favorite coming of age films, opens an insightful window into her generation’s defining experience.  Dear Corona presents a series of letters to the COVID-19 virus through which Garcia shares her true feelings and reflects on lessons learned through love and loss.  Van Zandt’s To the Invisible Crowd is a vlog style mockumentary, in which an aspiring YouTube personality attempts to make his family’s dysfunctional quarantine home life compelling to audiences.

Even as the students brought to the project their long love of filmmaking and their fluency with the video medium, the production scope of Quarenteen Voices was a new and challenging experience for them.  Being able to work with fellow artists and adult mentors provided them with valuable support and training and was a key to the project’s success.

“It was a little overwhelming at first,” Mariana remembered, “but over time, as I got to know the other filmmakers, we just bonded and it was pretty easy to get to know them.  I’m really lucky to have had their guidance on a lot of things when it came to editing and script writing and things like that.”

While each film featured the perspective of its filmmaker, the students were struck by how intensely their stories plugged into the universality of how young people are being affected by the pandemic.

“This pandemic,” Makaeo offered, “has a very similar experience for each of us being isolated and our views and worries about what the future may hold.  Knowing that we experienced things differently shows that beauty in life and how it’s viewed from different viewpoints and allows for people to tell different stories but still have a connection so we can find similar points and experiences.”

Kyle added, “We’re teenagers and young adults and I felt that all young adults and teenagers can relate to our stories and find something to grasp on to, an idea that they resonated with really deeply and could take away because we’re all dealing with this together.”

For these seven students, their filmmaking not only was an outlet for creative self-expression and giving voice to their generation’s experience, but also an opportunity to explore more deeply the impact that the pandemic has had on them personally.

“It makes you really think about like what’s going on and exactly what’s happening,” Briana mused.  “I was able to understand, ‘Oh well, I really do have this feeling that this thing (social media) is controlling me and I know that I can’t let it.”

Zach explained, “(Deciding) how to make this into a narrative film makes you think about what happened, more and more, and you connect more and more to what happened.  So, as artists, I think it made us think deeper on this crazy experience.”

“You know, it helped out a lot,” Jonas agreed.  “We can make films and show visually how we’re feeling and what we’re going through.  Just being able to display that and show that is really powerful.”

Annie said, “I definitely think I learned a lot about how to take care of my mental health during quarantine.  I usually would hang out with my friends and they would help me through things, but I had to kind of figure out how to do that on my own.  I think that it’s an important thing that a lot of teenagers were figuring that out and are still figuring it out now.”

As with most Lasallian activities, the festival combined education with community-building and inspiration.  This was evidenced by viewers’ reactions to the filmmakers’ work.

“Thank you to Joe and the filmmakers for highlighting so many facets of the “Covid experience,” chatted pastoral minister and Springtide Research Institute contributor Dr. Bob McCarty.

“What an amazing and awe filled experience,” Diahann Larson from Saint Michael’s High School in Santa Fe, NM, shared.  “Thank you all for making this evening possible from filmmakers, mentors, panel and attendees. A great community of Lasallians!”

SFNO Director of Leadership Formation Janell Kloosterman said of her viewing of the films, “As I reflect, it really has been one of the highlights of my time during Covid.  Thank you for giving our kids a voice. They need it more than ever.”

Future plans for the project include developing both student and adult teaching and discussion resources for use by Lasallian educators.  In addition, future film projects by Lasallian students to address other issues and topics are being considered.

Quaranteen Voices is a body of young Lasallians’ talent and spirit that shines a spotlight on our young people’s remarkable wisdom and resilience in navigating one of the most challenging chapters in all of American history.  It also speaks to our mission of Lasallian education to empower the extraordinary giftedness and strength that our students carry within themselves.

“Walking with these students,” said Alexander-Short, “has been an extremely meaningful experience.  Their art was forged in darkness, but they were always searching for light and beauty.  The more I entered into their worlds the more I found that there’s a lot to be hopeful about.”

For more, visit the Quaranteen Voices website.

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