This is the high school movie of the 21st century, talking about real people, real troubles and real consequences.
The SuAnne Big Crow Award, which is the National Education Association 2010 Human and Civil Rights Award for helping to enhance the sense of worth and dignity of America’s students, was awarded this July at the NEA annual convention to “Shout it Out.” The film is a break-through in media arts production because it was created through collaboration between high school students in the Vermont Public School system and Kingdom County Productions (KCP), a professional media company.
The ground-breaking strategy used for creating this film began with a request from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont. Kingdom County Productions was invited to produce a project on Vermont teens. After gathering more than 1,000 stories from teenagers throughout Vermont, Bess O’Brien, co-owner of KCP and an accomplished director, along with her colleague, Abby Paige, wrote a script for a musical based on these students’ stories.
Twenty-five students were involved in vetting this script to assure its authenticity. Then they assisted in writing the music and further developing the script. Try-outs were held throughout the state and a cast was formed and a successful live musical produced.
However, the ultimate product culminated in the production of the film, “Shout It Out.” Like the stage production, the teenagers in this film confront issues including obesity, bullying, suicide, diversity, pregnancy, drugs, homophobia and suicide.
The film follows a few students at the same high school, though not necessarily in the same group of friends. They each end up revealing their particular problem, all of which are familiar to teenagers throughout America. I really liked the sequence where a fresh-faced Vermont farm boy tries to let the gal he likes know that he’s interested in her. She is a beautiful African-American who has high aspirations and knows this boy is destined to run the family farm in this nearly all-white county. Both of these amateur teenagers came across as fresh, honest and without pretense, as did the rest of this amazing cast.
Jo’an Sterr, a supporter of the production in Washington State, has screened this movie for teachers and students to gain their impressions of how this kind of film might be best used in their respective schools. The most common reaction at the high school where I teach is that the students wanted to produce a film just like this one, going through the same process as the Vermont kids did. They wanted Bess O’Brien, the director, to come collaborate with them.
And that is probably the greatest strength of this film. It is in the process that students who want to tell their stories learn to make sense of their lives. It is giving developing personalities a chance to be honest and reflective. It is through that creative process that these students were also able to stand back a moment to truly appreciate, understand and accept each other a little more.
The NEA humanitarian award that “Shout Iit Out” earned was named after SuAnne Big Crow who was a star basketball player, the first in her class academically and a spokesperson against drug and alcohol abuse. Her motto was: “Work hard, be dedicated, develop a thick skin, learn to accept criticism, but most of all, do it yourself.”
Director and Producer: Bess O’Brien
Producer: Jay Craven and Morgan Faust
Writers: Bess O’Brien and Abby Paige
Choreographer: Rainey Lacey
Cast: Bruce Bearman, Nathaniel Beliveau, Wade Besaw, Kylie Billings, Kathryn Bloom, Caroline Bright, Max Cohn, Dayna Coiusins, Jyoti Daniere, Rusty DeWees, Beth Esmond, Anna Harissis, Ruby Hover, Ryan Howland, Dawn Kearon, Audrey Kiely, Ssophia LaPaglia, Jaci Laroque, Beth Lewis, Josie Lewis, Sam Lewis, Andrew McDuff, Devon Mendicino, Jordan Mitchell-Love, james Murphy, Mark Nash, Meredith Noseworthy, Robert Nuner, Tara O’Reilly, Kario Pereira-Bailey, Jonathan Reid, Ty Robinson, Annalise Shelmandine, Will Stamp, Fran Stoddard, Robert Toms
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