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Red Lake High School student film receives acclaim

RED LAKE -- The students in the Red Lake High School Project Preserve class are all directors, cinematographers, screenplay writers, actors and film editors.

On Saturday, the Walker Art Center featured their 22-minute movie in the Women with Vision 2006 film festival. The Walker featured "Maji-izhiwebizi jiibwaa mino-izhiwebizi" (He behaves badly before he behaves well) in the Girls in the Director's Chair youth division of the film festival.

The story is about Cornelius, a Red Lake boy played by Zach Stately, who gets kicked out of his parents' home and winds up nearly killing himself by alcohol poisoning. He returns from treatment and begins to heal and learn the traditional Ojibwe way of life from his grandfather, played by Frank Dickinson.

Desiree Stillday said the class worked together to develop the story line, beginning in January 2005. They named the main character Cornelius after a character in the Harry Potter series.

"We just basically sat together at this corner," said Joe Schoenborn of the process of screenplay writing.

"And threw out ideas," added Diane Schwanz, Project Preserve teacher.

The students said they received many compliments on their work. And, comparing it critically to the other student productions, they said their film was the best of the festival.

Through the winter of 2005, the students filmed the scenes of Cornelius' downfall, recovery, growth and healing. Schwanz said community members support the project and volunteer as actors.

Their work was interrupted in the spring when school closed because of the deadly shootings. The students returned for a week during the summer to complete the editing.

"I liked it when I first saw it," said Schoenborn of the final product.

Kelsi Brown said viewers at the Walker Art Center festival asked them, "What made us want to finish the film after what happened." She said making the movie helped them get their minds off the tragedy.

Schwanz said she was in tears when she watched the first screening.

"I was just overwhelmed with the integrity of the message and the tenacity of the students to come back and finish it," she said. "I'm so proud of them."

"We should make a sequel," said Schoenborn.

"I'll edit it," said Brown.

Project Preserve is a class Schwanz developed in 1995 to challenge talented students. The classes produce a film during their junior year and can attend Bemidji State University for classes during their senior year.

Other students involved in the film project are Josh Stately and Sabrina McGregor. Kris Sorenson owner of In Progress, a Twin Cities consulting firm for young filmmakers, has served as advisor to the class since the start 11 years ago.