Friday, September 15, 2023

Lake Placid Film Festival Student Summit to Bring the Newest Generation of Filmmakers

Lake Placid Film Festival Student Summit filmmakers

As we sit back and relax in front of the movie screen (or our computer,) it is easy to forget how much work goes into the making of a film. Clearly, anyone who ventures into the profession, must have passion and commitment. I wanted to learn about the creative young people who will be attending the Lake Placid Film Festival’s Student Summit,, a highly competitive scholarship program that will enable a number of students and recent grads to attend the festival. They will gather to learn and collaborate, and to share their dreams.

I was able to catch up with Kyle Broner, Connor Censak, Grace Chen, Juliana Flores-Ortiz, Paulina Jaskiesicz, Joe Morrison, Mac Pettit, Dante Simonetta, and Zagham A. Shah. What I discovered, besides just the diversity of backgrounds and interests, might be encouraging to art and film studies teachers and professors. Hands-on arts education, even at the middle and high school level, seemed to have helped inspire many of the students.


Even as a child, Kyle Broner was taking photographs and videotaping as a creative endeavor. Originally a computer science major, Kyle has discovered that filmmaker weds the creative with the enjoyment he finds in becoming proficient with the technical aspects of film production. Kyle did not, however, expect it to become a career path until attending Dutchess Community College where after a year of remote learning during the pandemic, he focused the last semesters on film production classes. Kyle has worked as a camera production assistant for the college, and made time to serve as President of the College’s Film Society. He’s particularly proud of the success of a collaboration between the Society and the Black Student Union, for the film, “Get Out.” Now at Marist College, Kyle is pursuing a BA in Media Studies and Production, Film and Television. Kyle is particularly interested in becoming proficient as a video editor, and working with software such as Avid. But he remains open and enthusiastic about all l opportunities.


Connor Censak is in his last year at SUNY Oswego, and will graduate in May 2024 with a Bachelor of Arts in History and CInema/Screen Studies. While he was exposed to a variety of movies at home, his interest in film began to take shape his last year of high school with a film studies class he enjoyed. American history is among his other top interests and Connor has interned at the Oswego Town Historical Society and Museum. Connor loves storytelling and crafting characters, and he plans to pursue a career in screenwriting. He’s begun producing a number of short films, with one he believes is his best to date, “Suckle” made last year for a film studies class. He’s also discovered that his history studies are beneficial to his screenwriting, as an understanding of history and how people in fact act, help him create more authentic stories.


When I spoke to Grace Chen, a student at American University, she had just returned from the Telluride Film Festival as part of their Student Symposium. She has also completed the Gotham
EDU Film and Media Center’s Development Program. Both intensive programs, but then again, Grace has been immersed in the arts, juggling classes and creative projects beginning as early as middle school in Arlington Virginia. Grace credits her schools for having offered classes in visual and performing arts, and she was able to take classes in drawing, painting, theater, choir as well as film production. One short film she produced, banana: an Asian-American story, was a Scholastic Art and Writing award winner and an official selection at festivals. She was pleased to find a warm response from audiences, as the film touched on the complexity of belonging to two cultures. Grace is now working towards a B.A. Film and Media Arts and Graphic Communication Design, and intends on writing and directing film.


Juliana’ Flores-Ortiz’s fascination with film began while she was still a child, going to the movies with her parents, and then chatting and dissecting them afterwards. With parents encouraging her towards the arts, she attended the Pinellas County Center for the Arts. A public school, the PCCA “is modeled after college arts conservatory programs. This four year program allows students to choose a major area of study in dance, music, theater, or visual art.” Juliana chose design technical theater and worked on a number of live productions while at the school. She’s now finishing up her Bachelors in Industry Studies and Critique at Brooklyn College while also working in film related positions, including SharingBox, enabling her to continue her studies. Juliana is excited to participate in the Student Summit and enjoys the collaborative nature of filmmaking.


After graduating high school in Poland, Paulina Jaskiewicz embraced her creative side and love of the arts – theater, dance, writing – to pursue an education in Film. She studied first for a year in Hawaii, with the idea that she would return and pursue film school in Poland. However, due to the pandemic, the United States provided more options. She found her way to New York and SUNY Westchester, earning an Associates Degree in Digital Film Making. It was during an unrelated class that she learned about the Greyston Bakery, a New York company that was trying to meet the needs of people who wanted to work, regardless of their background. She was very inspired and the short film she produced and directed about the company, “ Wide Open Dreams,” has since earned multiple awards, and was nominated for the best documentary film at the 2021 Cannes Short Film Festival. Paulina wants to use what she’s learned from this film, including budgeting and marketing, to continue as a film producer. She’s already planning new projects.


Joseph (Joe) Morrison loves movies, and has watched his share! He enjoys analyzing and critiquing films, and once spent a month watching 100 films. Joe has a B.S. in Computer Sciences from Clarkson University Potsdam, but his favorite classes were for his minor in Literature and the Arts, particularly film. He has had the experience of acting in a film and enjoys helping friends with film production. As of today, Joe isn’t quite sure how he will channel his passion for film as an art form into a profession. He’s currently focused on taking practical courses such as a Google user interface class. He’s looking forward to the Festival to watch movies and meet new people who share the same interest.


Mac Pettit was already immersed in improv and acting, when he elected to take a film class. The high school class provided hands-on and collaborative experience for the students in producing a short film. Mac also acted in the film, but he discovered that he was drawn more to the production. Soon Mac was making his own short films on his iPhone. As his films improved, his commitment to film increased. After graduation and a short break, he landed at the University of British Columbia, pursuing a B.F.A. in Film. Multi-talented and self directed, he’s happy with the encouragement provided by the UBC’s Film Department for students to think independently. He has a list of ideas for films he’d like to make, and has already had success pitching two scripts “Fading,” and “Mother Dearest,” directing and overseeing 30+ crew members while at UBC. These projects have reinforced his ambition to make his own meaningful as well as commercially successful films.


Dante Simonetta already had an MBA in Finance, and was working in the industry when he decided to return to school. Dante has always been interested in film, and would watch them at
every opportunity. He did not consider it as a career choice, until he saw his younger brother attending film school. He has now just earned his BFA in Film from Villa Maria College May 2023. The Film Program at Villa Maria is relatively small, and provided the opportunity for Dante to get to know his fellow students and to work together on projects. While at Villa Maria, Dante produced two short films, “Leave” and “Time Stood Still,” both winning awards. Dante was also recognized as Outstanding Film Student. He’s anxious to get his name and skill set out there to work on new projects, and for Dante, the Film Festival will be an opportunity to network.


Zagham A. Shah’s passion for film began with family outings to the movie theater, enjoying both American and Bollywood films, sometimes as often as twice a week. As the camera became his constant companion, he and his sister would recreate scenes from the films. Now at SUNY Binghamton, he has been on two separate degree paths, physics and film. The focus of SUNY Binghamton has been experimental film, and in 2022, Zag won the Best Experimental Film in the Suny Wide FIlm Festival. Zag sees filmmaking as more than a profession, but a compulsion – something that a filmmaker must do. As an individual who speaks both Urdu and English, as well as other languages, and with a need to maintain a connection with his Pakistani heritage, Zagham has many ideas for potential topics for his senior thesis that relate to language and identity.


“Adirondack Film is committed to continuing to further film education opportunities in New York State. The Lake Placid Film Festival Student Summit is a core part of that mission, and we look
forward to growing our educational programs in the coming years,” said Noah Ramer, the Summit’s Program Coordinator


Lake Placid Film Festival passes, which include access to all educational panels, workshops, and film screenings are available now at:


Photo at top: Lake Placid Film Festival Student Summit filmmakers, including Kyle Broner, Connor Censak, Grace Chen, Juliana Flores-Ortiz, Paulina Jaskiesicz, Joe Morrison, Mac Pettit, Dante Simonetta, and Zagham A. Shah. Photo provided by Linda Friedman Ramirez.

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Linda Friedman Ramirez is a resident of Saranac Lake. She previously owned an art gallery in St Petersburg, Florida, and appreciates how art is integral to a community. She's contributing these artist profiles on behalf of ArtWorks, of which she is a member.

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