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  1. Education

Nature Coast students bring home award from NYC film festival

BROOKSVILLE — Ten current students and three recent graduates of Ian Wald's digital video production class at Nature Coast Technical High School traveled to New York City last week for the All-American High School Film Festival.

The team returned with a $2,500 prize for its film, "Words Unspoken (The Undoing of Innocence): Exposed," about a teenage girl bullied to the brink of suicide.

"We were just so thrilled to be invited and selected," Wald said, so winning one of the awards, was "icing on the cake."

"We didn't get first (place), but we got arguably the next biggest award, called the Heart Award, for the most emotional story and film. So proud," he said.

Despite its name, the festival was actually an international affair.

"We were invited as one of 28 schools internationally to make a film in 48 hours," Wald said.

That film was made by his current students: sophomores Samantha Billotte, 15, and Max DeRoin, 15; junior Tyler Murcko, 17; and seniors Matt Caldwell, 17; Riley Jarman, 16; Ckatie Guimaraes, 17; Marisa McCants, 17; Hunter Schwefringhaus, 17; Toni Rossi, 17; and Julia LaCava, 17.

The three recent graduates — Carly Barker, 18; Alex Rodriguez, 18, and Kyle-Ethan Salazar, 18 — had already submitted films that were selected, accepted and screened as part of the festival.

The 10 high school students applied for the invitational portion of the competition. The school's program was selected, and Wald put together the team, which spent 10 weeks preparing. They wrote the screenplay, keeping with this year's theme, cyberbullying, and made a list of places in the city where they hoped to film and received permission to so do at each location.

Then they built their cast. Professional actors were available to them, and the team made their selections.

Once there, Wald said, "We just film and edit — execute."

Of course, it wasn't cheap to take 13 students to New York, so they set a $15,000 fundraising goal. They began during the summer with a film camp, and they set up a crowdfunding page through the Hernando County Education Foundation's website. They received some funds from AT&T, one of the event's sponsors, and $1,000 from the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association.

"That put us $1,500 short of our goal," Wald said.

That's when the Hernando Education Foundation came through with a $5,000 grant, putting them over their goal.

"We couldn't be more thankful for them," Wald said.

They had funds for airfare, ground transportation, hotel and food.

"The kids have been completely covered," Wald said prior to departure.

Tenth-grader Sam Billotte was looking forward to seeing their film on a big screen, and said she is serious about filmmaking.

"I love how you can express yourself with film," Billotte said. "That's what I want to do with the rest of my life."

Her classmate, Max DeRoin, although only 15, has been at this for a long time.

"In third grade, my friend and I created an hourlong video. We called it Idiot News 42," DeRoin said. "I started to expand, and I just kept learning more and more about editing."

He said he has been teaching himself over the years and is interested in film editing in the future.

Besides the Heart Award, there were several other awards. One, the Public Choice Award, will be selected by online voting through Oct. 28 at The Made in New York Award went to a New York City-based team, while the Maverick Award was given for "outside the box" creativity and execution. There were also awards for finalists and Best in Contest.

"It's essentially teen Oscars," Wald said.