Westporter teen's film picked for elite festival
Published 4:07 pm, Friday, April 20, 2012
Amelia Arnold speaks casually and passionately at the same time. Her eyes stay steadily focused as she discusses her film, "Moonlight," which was just accepted into the National Film Festival for Talented Youth -- the world's largest youth film festival.
But behind her calm, nonchalant demeanor, there is excitement in her voice.
The 18-year-old Westport resident sat in the King Low Heywood Thomas School's Performing Arts Center in Stamford recently discussing the 5-minute film. It was conceptualized nearby last year during a break between her classes at King, a private school.
"The movie is based on a poem of the same name, and I actually wrote that in the library at school, like between classes or something," said Arnold, a senior. "And I'd kept it in a drawer until maybe about January of this year, because I didn't feel like it was a poem. I felt like it shouldn't just be on paper."
The poem is more of a story -- one of love, deception and a little bit of teenage angst -- and Arnold from the very beginning was able to picture it in more than the two dimensions provided by pen and paper. So this winter, she brought the poem to her friend Max Galassi, a 14-year-old from Newtown, whom she knows from their work together in the Westport Film Festival.
"He's a photographer and a filmmaker, so I brought it to him, and I said, `I have his poem I'd really like to see made into a 5- or 10-minute short film.' He'd been meaning to do a project like this -- a narrative, experimental, voice over, visual representation kind of thing," she said. And that's just how the film turned out.
Galassi helped Arnold track down actors and the group shot the film in various locations throughout Fairfield County, including a below-freezing outing to Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, where Arnold said she is surprised the actors stuck it out.
"It was just so cold; 16 degrees. And it was absolute torture for the actors," she said. But torture and art often go hand in hand, and Arnold said she was blown away by the quality of the acting and filming. When she finally watched a polished version of the film, it blew her away.
"All I could think of was remembering when I was sitting in the library writing the thing, and here it is like these are the people I created and they're just like I thought they'd be," she said.
The film tells the story of a teenage girl who falls in love with a boy -- or at least that's what she thinks is happening.
"The story is pretty far-fetched," Arnold said with a laugh, chocking the drama up to her overflowing imagination. "But what I was thinking when I wrote this is that there's this girl who doesn't really know where she's going or have her bearings, and she falls in love with a boy who becomes her entire life."
But the boy represents moonlight, which Arnold explains is really a symbol of deception. Moonlight kind of gives you the light of the sun -- which represents reality -- but really it's just a reflection of the sun. In the end, moonlight is only a projection, she said.
"In the end of the film, you can see where the reality hits and she realizes he was never really real. It's kind of this reality versus fantasy that she moves in and out of," she explained.
The result is a short film with teenage creators and actors that leaves the viewer feeling cold and duped. It will never win an award for happiest film of the year, but that's just fine with Arnold, who declared that she'd rather pursue art than commercial success in her budding film and literature career.
"I don't want to do that kind of cheap, multimillion dollar industry kind of crap that they put out every year," she said matter-of-factly, laying out her hands in front of her, palms up. "I'm really getting into documentaries, and if not documentaries, then fictional feature-length films that are an expose of social and cultural issues. Nothing like `Looney Toons.' And I know that's not where the money is, but that's the only way I'm going to do it."
That's still a ways off; after an hourlong interview on Thursday, Arnold hopped in the car with her parents to take yet another college tour in Philadelphia. She's looking for a liberal arts school, to expand her mind in as many ways as she can, and has decided she'll attend film school after that.
But she's well on her way. She, Galassi and the film's lead actress, Hayley Tate, are flying to Seattle later this month for the film festival, where she plans to watch as many screenings as possible and network a bit.
"My expectations for Seattle are that we absolutely will not win anything," she said. "If we do win, I'll have a heart attack, but I'm not expecting that at all. We weren't even expecting to get into the festival, and at first we were ecstatic, but then we thought, `How did we do this? How did we make it happen?' "
The answer to that is simple: "We put our all into it. Really, everything."