Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts fosters creativity and art in over 900 students. In 2015, the Dallas International Film Festival showcased 14 short films by 14 Booker T. students. This week, I spoke with Niloo Jalilvand, film teacher and two students: Jade Contreras, actor, writer, producer and director of “Home,” and Ella Hofmann, singer, writer, producer and director of “Pulse.”
- Watch “Frame of Mind,” tonight at 11 on KERA TV.
As a mathematician and filmmaker, teacher Niloo Jalilvand oversees all of the film students at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. Within the program, she praises her students and talks about her hopes for their own futures.
On the Booker T. Washington film program…
It’s brand new. We were a club for a long time and in the past three years, we started the program by including curriculum into the students’ daily schedule. The courses basically include history, aesthetics, editing and production.
When we first started, it was mostly all guys. Over the years, the numbers have increased, so now we have more girls than guys. I love that very much. I think that many of the female filmmakers that we have are renaissance people, so they use both sides of their brain. They’re really good at aesthetics and they’re really good at editing too. They’re logical and emotional in the sense that they understand the dynamics of humanity. A lot of their works are very personal, it touches people and makes connections with the audience.
On choosing student films for “Frame of Mind…”
The decisions were not just me, but me and the producers. We came up with this selection because we wanted to have a variety. For each of the type of categories we were thinking of, I chose the ones that would really capture the audience and make a connection with the viewers.
Praise for her senior year students…
Ella Hofmann-Coyle; she is a brilliant, young mind. This past summer, she studied emerging media, so she’s looking at all types of technologies mixed with art, mathematics, film and chemistry. She’s the balance between science and art.
I also have Montana Brock, he is a young man that entered the Sight of Sound competition at the Dallas Chamber Symphony. The DCS has a competition for students to create a visual story that matches a particular original composition. They asked people from all over the country and Montana was the only high school student out of the entire selection.
Michael Quintanilla is a wonderful filmmaker. His aesthetic is about visuals; if you stop his film at any frame, it looks like a painting, it’s beautiful. I would love to have his films project on the side of my wall!
Then there is Jessi Stegall, whose film was selected. I thought that Jessi’s story was wonderful because it was about home on Greenville Ave. East Dallas is her home and I thought that the film really captured that; the idea of a whole community that she considers her home, not just her house.
Her words of wisdom..
There is so much work in the film industry, but I think most people equate film as directing. That’s just not true. There are hundreds of different positions in the film industry and you can still do a great job. You don’t have to be a writer or the director, but if you’re the light designer, you’d better make sure you know exactly what that scene is trying to tell the audience and light it that way so that everyone is keeping the vision of that story and telling it in the best possible way. It doesn’t matter what your position is — it takes such a huge team to make a film. There are lots of opportunities there for those who have passion for the film industry.
Focusing on her love of theater and film, Jade Contreras takes her love for the visual arts and teen angst a step further in “Home,” a film about running away and building lives.
On how she came up for the idea for “Home…”
I actually had a dream about running away from home. It was a dream where I was watching myself in the the dream when I was three, and I remember packing all of the things I needed — like a cup, a blanket — I remember running away from home and building a fort in the woods. That’s been a theme in filmmaking for me recently, which I guess is a dysfunctional, teen angst type of feeling.
I think every film that I make is going to be reflective of a little piece of me. Specifically for ‘Home,’ I focused on the actors’ feelings. When I wrote the screenplay and the script, I already had in mind who I wanted to cast. I knew the actors personally and I wrote the film based on how their lives were. Every film of mine is a testimony of real life, I guess. ‘Home’ could be a reflection of my own life, but not to be taken extremely literal.
On her future plans…
Right now I’m having a reality check where it’s time to decide what college I want to attend and which ones I can attend. Of course I’d like to study film or production management in college. My plan for the future is to hopefully get into a great college, study film and work in the industry. I plan on using the connections I have here in the Dallas film industry. I can definitely see myself becoming a production assistant or production manager. So college is first and then a great job in the industry.
Her thoughts on being featured on “Frame of Mind…”
I work on these projects for certain things. For ‘Home,’ I wrote, directed and produced for the Dallas International Film Festival, so it was shown at the Dallas International Film Festival. I didn’t think it would ever end up on ‘Frame of Mind,’ I just thought it was a project to showcase my abilities. To think that it’ll end up on TV is a neat thing to think about because I’m still so young and I have so much to learn. I’m very grateful for the experience.
On her upcoming projects…
If anyone wants to pay me, I’m totally down! All the internships, colleges, scholarships — anything, I’ll take it! [laughs]. “DADDY?,” the film that I’m working on now, focuses on children and their relationships with their fathers, how it’s important for the rest of their lives and how certain memories build a person. It’s been really exciting.
I never want to make a film or produce a film that I don’t have experience with, because that’s what filmmaking is — to be able to show the world through my eyes.
Senior Ella Hofmann-Coyle is a singer, filmmaker, student council, honor student and founder of Tech Arts Club at Booker T. This week “Pulse” is a short narrative film that Hofmann wrote, directed and voiced.
On the idea for “Pulse…”
I started writing the poem for “Pulse,” that was the initial phase of it. I was thinking of art as a whole and how it has the power to change the world and shows perspective, so I was trying to create a poem that would really connect multiple aspects of what art is. A lot of people think of art as just visual art, but I tried to really widen the definition of what art really is and contextualize the impact it has. When I was writing the poem, I put in a couple of words that I could see happening. There was a part that talks about molding and I have a friend who is a ceramist, so I had that image in my mind. I wrote mostly for the content but I also had in mind how I could implement it. I tried to get each cluster — a dancer, a visual artist and a musician — I worked with the dancer and asked her to improv and I played with the angles; I had the pianist play a piece and I filmed from different angles, same thing for the ceramist. I got some clips of daily life and as I edited, I integrated them as they responded to the poem so that they would complement each other.
On what she focuses on at school…
I balance my day with a variety of my interests so that I can keep growing in all of those fields. I do dedicate a lot of my time to choir and opera because it takes so many hours to prepare for a concert or production. This past weekend I was singing 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. so singing just takes up a lot more of my time. I’ll stay up late to teach myself math and science concepts or finish editing film or writing a new script. I don’t do the same thing every day but I’ll do what I need to get things done while still learning a lot.
On her young age…
At Booker T., you spend a lot of time with the community and the people within that community. Those who are connected already have an understanding of the level of caliber that we operate at. In most of the programs that I’m a part of, students are pretty advanced.
Thoughts on being featured on “Frame of Mind…”
That’s so exciting. I’m always looking for opportunities to share my work because I’m not shy, but I’m not one to ask someone to watch my film, so I was sad that it didn’t get more attention. This is a super exciting opportunity; I’m really happy.