DOVER -- As the Independent Television and Film Festival nears, its organizer Phil Gilpin Jr. began reaching out to local schools, asking if there were any student projects that could be screened at the festival.
"Bill Anton, my principal, came to me one day and said, ‘I kind of put you up to something. I hope you'll be OK with it,'" said fourth grade teacher Michael Degnon.
Gilpin's idea was to showcase content that would depict the video art form from an educational point of view. Anton told Gilpin that he had called at just the right time.
The 8th Annual ITVFest will be held from Sept. 26 to 28. Tents and stages will be set up around Dover and Wilmington. Schedules for specific showings and musical performances are available at ITVFest.com.
The Dover School fourth graders' project, "The Civil War Anthology," will mark the kick-off to the festival's screenings on Thursday at the Dover Forge restaurant at 8:30 p.m. Other films will also be shown at that location afterwards. Musical performances will begin on Thursday afternoon at 1 p.m., beginning with local musician Colby Dix taking the stage.
The student filmmakers were involved in nearly every aspect of creating the production, which shows what it was life was like during the Civil War, from various perspectives.
Fourth graders helped write a script, crafted scenes and also participated in the production end of it, which included gathering images for the green screen. Children from the choir sang in several songs that were used for the score.
"They were involved in almost every element of production to one extent or another," said Degnon. "When they see it come together and see all these elements they were involved in, it was just a thrill."
Degnon and Technology Specialist Greg Montgomery had discussed the project last school year with the Reformer. They had decided to build their own green screen for a movie about the Civil War. It was constructed early in April.
Instead of painting scenery and cutting out cardboard pieces, the students found their own images to be displayed on that green screen while they acted in front of it.
The fourth grade class worked on the film for a few months before premiering it during a sing along event at the end of the school year. Every Friday, Dover School hosts a morning singing session that parents, other family members and community members are invited to.
On the last Friday of the last school year, the Civil War movie received a positive response from a mixed audience of adults and children.
"It's still alive and well," Degnon said of the project. "It's getting a lot of positive feedback. Certainly, it's an honor to be able to showcase it in areas and share with the public as far as the film festival is concerned and share it with teachers at two conferences. As Bill (Anton) said, ‘It's got a lot of legs right now.'"
Degnon will also present the movie at the Vermont Council on Reading Conference in Rutland and then again, at the Vermont Fest 2013 in Killington, which is an event that will focus on technology.
He believes it is important for not only parents but also the community to see what's going on behind the school's doors.
"Education is taking big leaps, especially technology integration," said Degnon. "That's a major tool in the process of learning."
According to Degnon, the students are incredibly excited for the film festival. Many of them plan to attend the opening night along with their families. A newsletter went out to the school community, encouraging Dover School families to attend the screening.
"This is a very big deal for them," said Degnon. "They know what a film festival is. These kids are exposed to this type of art form, between television and movies, everyday. I think the buzz is that their film is going to be in this festival along with all these professional people, who are submitting full length feature films and people involved with television production. They're involved in something pretty special."
As the presenter of the film, Degnon is excited. He will be providing an introduction before the movie is screened.
"I've been lying awake at night, trying to take it all in," he said. "I'm just excited to see what the festival is all about and to be a part of it. The closer I get to it, the more excited I get."
This year, Degnon is looking forward to producing another movie, which he thinks will have to do with science. He and Montgomery also have plans to improve the screen. They had experienced minor glitches and believe that by making the screen larger, they'll be able to fix some of those issues.
Degnon also hopes to improve audio by using boom stands for microphones instead of recording sound out of the camera.
"We learned a tremendous amount by just doing this," he added. "The next piece will be 100 percent better just from those few improvements we recognized needed to be made."
Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.