All in Spanish: Students Make First DVD Film
By ALEXIS TONTI
In October, students at the regional high school began an adaptation of the Spanish play Bodas de Sangre (Blood Wedding) by Federico Garcia Lorca. The project aimed to produce the school's first student-made DVD film, complete with English subtitles. They thought it couldn't be much different than a theatre production. As it turns out, no one had any idea what they were getting into.
The project swelled to involve almost 70 students at every level, from costuming and make-up to set design; acting to filming; music to post-production editing and subtitling. The complex, multi-faceted nature of movie making surprised everyone. But a school year later, the movie is nearly ready for its debut, on May 16 at 8 p.m. at the Performing Arts Center of the high school.
"Fortunately, we didn't think too much about it," said Lynn Ditchfield, the Spanish teacher who directed the production. "If we conceived what an enormous project it would be, we might not have embarked on the adventure."
The adventure began because she wanted to do a project with Spangles, the Spanish club which she serves as advisor. "Every year we like to do something to give back to the Spanish community on the Island," said Mrs. Ditchfield. "They've been so wonderful to us, coming into class and letting us come to the Noches de Hablar Español."
The play appealed to Mrs. Ditchfield, who acted with a professional women's theatre group for five years, after seeing a recent production in Boston. It was her son, Brian (a filmmaker whose movie The Last Will and Testament of Marlboro Patch premiered last summer on Island), who suggested taking it one step further and doing a movie. Mrs. Ditchfield immediately enlisted the help of senior Charlie Nadler, who videotaped a school trip to Argentina last year and will be attending film school at Boston University next year. With a commitment from the cameraman, she was ready to propose the project to students at large. All responded with enthusiasm, from first-year language students to those on the advanced placement level.
The tragic play is based on a newspaper fragment of a family vendetta and a bride who ran away with the son of the enemy family. Lorca explores themes of desire, repression, ritual, restraint and the constraints and commitments of the rural Spanish village in which the action is set. Mrs. Ditchfield said aside from a few modernizations, they made few changes in the transition from stage to screen.
Many of the students involved received extra credit or used the project as an alternative to mid-term exams - more than a fair trade, she said, for all the time and energy they devoted.
Senior Sam Decker, who helped score the movie with Willy Mason and Jesse Wiener, agreed the project was "a lot more than just homework." To prepare, they watched movies such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to see how other composers used music in combination with film. "It's subtle, but it adds to mood and tone in ways you don't even notice," Mr. Decker said. The trio tried to create passionate music with a Spanish flair. "We really wanted to drive the play with the music, but it's difficult. We didn't realize how difficult until we were actually doing it.
"It was a great experience," he added. "Especially because it's something I might be interested in doing later in life."
As did many students, Jesse Wiener played a dual role, his being musician and actor. A participant in school plays, he said he enjoyed film as an experience different from live theatre. And, he said, it was a good exercise in Spanish. "It's easier to learn lines if you understand what you're saying, and not just trying to put sounds together. And it's better than just reading and doing exercises in class. It's literature that we really cracked away at, cracked it like a code."
Mrs. Ditchfield said she's seen lots of learning in the movie-making process. "To hear the complex Spanish in context reinforces the uses of Spanish. The real-life experience helps. One student had a very challenging part for a second-year student, especially when the language went beyond what he already knew; afterward my jaw dropped to hear him speak so fluidly in class. It was a huge leap, and very exciting."
Very much a believer in integrating arts in the curriculum, Mrs. Ditchfield stressed that the film did more than improve language skills. "A lot of kids found a niche for themselves in ways they hadn't explored before, at least not completely," she said. Among other student contributions, she pointed to Henrique Aguiar, who developed the storyboards. "It was 51 pages, and he really envisioned how each shot should be composed. It was an incredible find of talent."
As much as Mrs. Ditchfield found herself in awe of the students - "They knew what to do. It's wonderful to watch them working and succeeding when I don't even have a clue" - the students in turn appreciated her guidance.
"Señora Ditchfield was so wonderful, so patient," said senior Jackie Burgoyne, who split the lead role of the madre with her twin sister, Jamie. "She's an amazing actress herself. To watch her and have her coach us with our lines was great. We really fed off her. Her energy is the ‘sangre' (blood) of the whole thing.
"This was so cool for the Spanish department to do - for the school in general," she continued. "It's amazing how so many different parts came together. Different languages and dance and how the music intertwines with it all. It's like magic."