More than 4,000 films from 48 states and 40 countries were screened over four days at the fourth annual All-American High School Film Festival, which wrapped up on a Sunday night at the AMC theatre in New York Times Square. One of the recipients of the national awards was a group of Cougar filmmakers, who won the title of “Best Film Invitational 3-Day Shoot and Edit”.
The film was shot under the contest’s theme of “The Last ___”. The Last Check, the movie that took home the trophy, was, in the words of screenwriter Julia Bresnan, “…a drama about a girl going to New York City to complete her late brother’s bucket list.”
The competition wasn’t an exhibition match: the team had to formally apply and be accepted based on past merits. “After the student’s performance at 2017 Student Television Network Convention in Anaheim, two of the three founders approached me about applying for the AAHSFF Film Invitational,” Learning Center Advisor, Aaron Yoshino said. “That night, I filled out the application. We found out in April, we were selected!”
The film was created over a 10-week pre-production period and a three-day filming and editing portion in New York. The seventy days before the flight were used for planning out the plot, location scouting, and casting of the film while the three in the Empire State were for gathering footage and putting it together.
Kaiser’s media team was the new kid on the block, and they faced a brand new level of competition. “It was really nerve racking when we found out we were competing against schools from all over the nation,” Gearld Canaday IV, a member of the production team, said. “We’d be the first school from Hawaii to compete and for most of our crew, the first time they’d been to New York.”
Though the crew was experienced in production of a film, establishing a plan for production of a film on the other side of the country made the situation more challenging for the team. “Most of the group had never been to New York before, so it was really challenging to try and envision where we would be filming and what the locations would be like,” said Bresnan. “Also, being from Hawaii we were 6 hours behind so contacting our actors and locations in the city was hard.”
The demanding time constriction as well as national scene against talented competition established a sense of urgency for the team. “It was really intense and the pressure level was nothing like most of these students have been through before,” said Yoshino. “But throughout it all, the spirit was always so positive and doing things together as a team, was always at the forefront.”
With so much to persevere through to create the film, emotions were bound to surface when they were announced the winners. “When announced for finals we were so happy: just seeing our name on the screen was enough for us,” said Bresnan. “[But] when we won, it was as if all of the hard work finally paid off. I was at a loss for words and just cried; our advisors, Mrs. Misi and Takahara-Dias, and our friend Rosario were screaming so loud for us.”
Beside a blue ribbon, Kaiser earned equipment for the Learning Center for future projects. “[The grand prize] was a package consisting of film software, equipment, and some cool marketing materials from various films that screened in IMAX,” said Yoshino.
Though finishing first was a Cinderella ending for the crew, it was bitter-sweet for Yoshino. This was one of the last projects he will supervise at Kaiser High. On October 31st, Yoshino will leave for Portland, Oregon. “The good work of the MCLC will never be done,” said Yoshino. “I am so proud [of] where we are today, and I am so grateful to all those who supported us and the students who have worked hard before to get us to where we are today.”
Yoshino’s departure is a sad one for MCLC and Kaiser High School. “Mr. Aaron built an amazing program along with Ms. Misi and made all [of] this possible,” said Canaday IV. “His hard work and dedication has constantly gotten us opportunities that has built the program into what it is today.” The young teacher, however, is proud of the gains the Learning Center has made during his time here.
“Doors really did open for us after this win. Now it comes down to how we keep moving forward,” Yoshino said, “They say shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars. Together as one MCLC, we’ll continue to shoot for the moon: we always will. But man, have we landed amongst some pretty awesome stars.”