Three films made by students at Ballard High School earned top prizes in five categories at a regional awards festival last weekend. Leo Pfeifer, 17, helped make them all.
Three films made by students at Ballard High School earned top prizes in five categories at a regional awards festival last weekend.
Leo Pfeifer, 17, helped make them all.
For “Stolen,” a drama about an elderly couple and a con artist that won awards for short-form fiction and writing, Pfeifer edited film and shot video, and classmate Coleman Andersen arranged the lighting and directed actors. While making “GeoForce: A Journey to Understanding,” Pfeifer and fellow Ballard High student Raven Two Feathers traveled to Mt. St. Helens and other volcanic sites to document a geology program that serves native Alaskan youth. That film won the best of short-form nonfiction award.
And in “Clipped Wings,” a documentary that started with a classmate’s idea to profile a gay Seattle Boy Scout, Pfeifer grabbed a camera to record a national breaking news story that became the backbone of the film, which won awards for best long-form nonfiction and best photographer/editor.
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Pfeifer, a junior, has always wanted to tell stories. His mom bought him his first film camera at age 3. During his elementary school years, he put on puppet shows for his family. He chose Ballard High for the film program, and wants to go to film school after he graduates.
Making documentaries, he said, is a thrill.
“If you miss something, or you mess up a shot … there’s really no way to go back and do it again,” Pfeifer said. “You can’t do another take, or reset, or go back the next time. We had to get it right the first time.”
The awards for “Clipped Wings” and other films came from the Northwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences festival last weekend, where the academy honored the best of high school television production in five northwestern states.
It was classmate and fellow filmmaker Duncan Gowdy’s idea to follow Liam Easton-Calabria, one of Gowdy’s mentors and an openly gay Eagle scout, for a short documentary about how the Boy Scouts’ ban on gays impacted teens.
But while Pfeifer and Gowdy were shooting the film last spring, the Boy Scouts of America made another move — ousting Seattle resident and openly gay troop leader Geoff McGrath from the organization. With about an hour’s notice, the students found out about a rally for the troop leader. They rented equipment from the school, raced across town and made it in time to elbow local news media for a shot of McGrath, who became a main character in the 13-minute film.
New this year for the long-standing and well-known Ballard film program is an uptick in awards for documentary films like “Clipped Wings,” said Matt Lawrence, the teacher who runs the program. All projects start with a pitch, or idea, from a student, he said, and are intensely collaborative. Because they’re learning, students share tasks on films more than professionals do.
The awards, he said, feel great.
“It’s incredibly validating for students to have their work validated by professionals, who have careers in the field they hope to enter,” Lawrence said.
“Clipped Wings” and another Ballard High documentary — “Raven Rock,” by Rachel Cole, Jaya Flanary and Meagen Tajalle — swept both documentary awards at this year’s Dominique Dunne Film Competition, too. A documentary about podcasting, called “Audio Input,” also by Ballard High students, won a jury prize at the Seattle International Film Festival.