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Smooth Feather Film School: 'This theater, I feel like it has some magic about it.'

The high school students wrote, directed, and acted in 'The Shadows We Speak', a film that was recently accepted into the Boston International Kids Film Festival.

PORTER, MAINE, Maine — Here is an update to our story: The Kezar Falls Theater will have a grand re-opening on Saturday, April 23rd at 6:30 pm. There will be live music from The Clements Brothers, as well as a screening of a new Smooth Feather film called "Queen of Hearts" - the event is free and open to the public. For more information, click here

For nearly a century and a half, The Kezar Falls Theater has sat on the corner of Main Street where Porter and Parsonsfield meet. The old theater had been closed for about 40 years when Silas Hagerty, who grew up in Kezar Falls, bought the theater with the idea of creating a film school. That was 10 years ago.

Credit: Contributed, Smooth Feather Youth

Now, he runs the Smooth Feather Film School, an intensive week-long program that teaches the art of filmmaking to high school students. Each morning, the kids begin their day by sitting together in a circle. It is here that the film takes shape, connections are made, and trust is built.

Silas explained it this way. "We’re all on the same level. There’s really not this teacher-student feeling in the group. It’s like we’re all in a circle and there’s a certain adrenalin that comes with 'All right guys, it’s Monday, I know many of you’ve never touched a camera before, or a microphone, but, Saturday night this theater is gonna be packed with people from this community that are excited to see your movie so we don’t have that much time to talk. Our first scene is in about 18 minutes!'"

He calls in his filmmaking friends — artists, photographers, writers — to help him make his dream of a film school a reality. The week gets underway with plenty of energy — and possibility.   

"They’re just completely thrown in, whether you’re a producer, whether you’re a sound person, camera person, it’s like all these different roles," Silas said. "They have no experience, and we just throw them in. It’s amazing to see how they just rise to the occasion and they just start makin’ it. That’s what I love about this film school. This theater is more alive than any other time when the film school’s happening." 

This past summer, Silas tapped Sacopee Valley High School senior Cassidy Shea to direct the film the group would create. Having lived through a pandemic, Cassidy wanted to make a film about the challenges that she and her peers are dealing with, and the impact that the isolation has had on them.

Cassidy explained it this way: "Our youth is struggling, not just our youth but I felt like our community definitely needed some awareness. So, that’s where the idea started. High school is very formative. As an adolescent? I can’t get that year back. Because I was just by myself. And I feel like that’s how other adolescents feel is that they need that interaction with other people and they need that understanding and awareness that it’s okay to be sad, and to feel anxious, and to feel scared."

'The Shadows We Speak'  centers around three teens, at home and at school,  meeting up, hanging out, making plans. There was no script: each scene was improvised. As the shooting unfolded, the film became less about plot and more about what happens between the characters.

Abram Maynard, also a senior at Sacopee Valley, plays a character who is struggling with ADHD.

"It’s this thing that like everyone just passes over, but like so many people in my generation deal with it," he said. "And it’s such a serious thing because it can really restrict people’s lives. When I started getting into it, it made me very emotional because of, like, how deep of a sense it made me feel with all these people just drifting away from me."

When the three main characters make plans to hang out at the beach, the conversation quickly turns personal, and painful.

Hannah Decker’s character in the movie struggles with an eating disorder. She talks about a line that came to her while they were filming: "If I don’t eat, maybe I can be as small and as empty as I actually feel."

Hannah explains that powerful thought: "Empty, you feel, like, almost emotionless. You get to a point where you feel emotionless, small, because you feel like the world around you is crushing you. No matter what you do, you just can’t get out from underneath it. Not being able to reach out for help and not having that loud a voice that you need."

Each actor credited that morning circle, and the conversation led by Silas, for shaping the film.

"He likes to tell everyone that when you open up, and you like to share these deep things about yourself that you normally wouldn’t, that’s when you make the connections," Hannah said. "And I totally believe that. I think that’s how everyone became so close. I definitely feel like now this is a group of people that I can trust and that if I need something? I know I can go to them." 

Cassidy referenced the circle as well: "We talk about this in the circle: there’s friends, there’s surface friends, and then there’s like your true friends. And I feel as though with the circles, like, we got to know each other a lot deeper."

Together, these friends hope their film will open doors to conversation and connection.

Cassidy hopes the film will spark connection.

"What I mainly want people to take away from this film is there’s thousands of people that have been in your situation," she said. "You are not alone, even though you feel isolated."

"I really hope that people can kind of look to the people next to them and ask,  ‘Are you struggling with this?' Just because, especially with COVID we’re kind of in a world now where we’re isolated and sometimes we just really feel alone but to be able to reach out to your neighbor, reach out to the people close to you within school and just ask how they’re feeling and try to sympathize with people and what they’re going through," Abram said. 

Cassidy attributes some of their success to the work they do within this old building.

"This theater, I feel like it has some magic about it, as cliché as it sounds. We come in here and it’s like a second home. We’re able to talk about these things, and feel safe, and get encouragement and literally be able to blossom under this roof ... It’s just amazing."

Click here to view "The Shadows We Speak." The film was recently screened at the Boston International Kids Film Festival. You can click here to see the students present the film and chat with audience members after it was screened. 

Smooth Feather Film School is part of the non-profit Smooth Feather Youth, housed at the theater. And Silas hopes to offer more film programs throughout the year. If you would like to support the work of Smooth Feather Youth, click here