What sophomore jinx? Not at the Morristown High film fest

LOOK OUT, HOLLYWOOD: Winners' circle from 2014 MHS Film Fest, from left: Teacher Mike Butler; 2nd prize winners RJ Meyer, Joe Cohen and Matt Prusso; third prize winner Candace Salter; first prize winners Henry Vizhnay (with leading lady Zoey Rangel) and Justin Leifer; teacher Brian Kievning. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
LOOK OUT, HOLLYWOOD: Winners’ circle from 2014 MHS Film Fest, from left: Teacher Mike Butler; 2nd prize winners RJ Meyer, Joe Cohen and Matt Prusso; third prize winner Candace Salter; first prize winners Henry Vizhnay (with leading lady Zoey Rangel) and Justin Leifer; teacher Brian Kievning. Photo by Kevin Coughlin


There was no sophomore jinx at the second annual Morristown High School Film Festival.

Sophomores won the top three spots Friday, besting a strong field of 20 finalists who entered short videos pegged to the open-ended theme of “Red.”

“We wanted it to be a good, stylish story, like an adventure,” said Justin Leifer, who took first place with classmates Henry Vizhnay and Rishi Agerwal for The Red Ball.

The film stars 2-year-old Zoey Rangel, whose favorite red ball escapes into a black-and-white world.

“It had the most personality. Lyrical and fun,” said New York Film Critics series presenter Mark Ehrenkranz, who judged the students’ entries with Robin Kampf of RJK Media and Paul Tsakos of Fox TV.



Mark contributed passes to his series as prizes, to go with DSLR cameras and video gear from an anonymous donor and cash awards from broadcasting teacher Mike Butler and photo teacher Brian Kievning.  Finalists were chosen from 38 submissions by MHS broadcasting students; entries were judged on originality, storytelling, technical merit and audio quality .

Second place went to The Last Page, a cinematic story of personal loss from the team of Matt Prusso, Skyler Frost, Joe Cohen and RJ Meyer.

The video’s masterful effects include a ghostly doubling of Matt Prusso, who also donned whiskers for the lead role. RJ said the biggest challenge was putting Matt into the proper emotional state.

“He’s a very giggly guy. We had to get him sad,” RJ said.

They also encountered the Plan 9 from Outer Space problem. The star of that one, Bela Lugosi, died just before the climactic scenes were shot, necessitating some camera tricks with a body double.

The producers of The Last Page had to do the same thing when love interest Jenna Royal was hospitalized after a bicycle accident (unrelated to filming) and could not finish the picture. Matt’s younger sister, Rachel Prusso, lent the back of her head to the project.



Candace Salter and Lauren Bedoya took home third place honors for The Sign, a simple, sweet love story that rewards viewers with a delicious surprise.

“I wanted something with a twist,” said Candace, who spent a month shooting co-stars Michael Chase and Sara Dalpe.  It takes great effort to make a movie look so effortless. “The hardest part was putting it together, making sure I had good cuts,” the filmmaker said.




Several contenders rated honorable mentions.

Allie Lott, a 2013 MHS graduate who is studying broadcasting at Ithaca College, gave an Alumni Award to The Red Fire Truck, a dazzling stop-motion animation, meticulously pieced together from more than 800 photos by freshmen Alex King and Philip Larosa.



The Tricorn literary magazine staff cited the originality and creativity of Red, an atmospheric psychological drama by Alexandra Fielding.  In addition to writing, shooting and editing her first foray into video, she co-stars, too, with senior John Grilli and her father, Philip Fielding.



Brian Kievning gave a Founder’s Award for videography to Fiona Mullen and Casey O’Brien for Passion, a crisp profile of surfer Tom Petriken.

Fiona also was a winner at last summer’s MorristownGreen.com Film Festival. Another MG Film Fest winner, sophomore Kirsten Traudt, emceed Friday’s MHS contest and handled many behind-the-scenes chores.



Cranberry Monger, an endearingly goofy spoof of health fads, set to an infectious original tune by the MHS rock band Sprechensie Awesome, earned a “Founder’s Award” from broadcasting teacher Mike Butler for Brian Coven, Devon Cupo and Nikolas Slackman.

“It made me smile… I’ve been singing the song for weeks,” Mike said.


Other entries also made clever use of the red theme. Did you know there are 37 shades of the color? One piece examined the implications. Another explored the brotherhood of firemen. A red pen figured in a whimsical romance, while red lipstick spelled doom in a slick whodunnit. At a red light, a young auteur pondered the meaning of life.

Mike Butler said he was proud of his broadcasting students for their final products–and for their willingness to submit them to scrutiny.

“These kids are getting nitpicked, getting judged. Sometimes for high school kids, that’s really tough,” said the former director for CourtTV.  “It teaches character, builds strength. It teaches them to pick themselves up and do better next time.”


The video competition capped a week-long parade of talent at Morristown High, under the umbrella of the sixth annual MHS Art & Design Week.

Hundreds of student artworks were showcased. There was an “art battle,” a  fashion show and a cardboard boat race in the school pool. Jazz Night featured top musicians from the middle school and high school, plus an alumni band that played an emotional tribute to retiring music teacher John Schumacher.  Classics Academy Night highlighted creative academic and artistic projects by a select group of upperclassmen.

“I’m pretty happy,” said Brian Kievning, who oversees Art & Design Week. He was pleased by the film fest’s growth, and delighted by the addition of web design teacher Michael Maguire, an MHS graduate who produced logos for the art show.

“He brought a lot of new energy to the table,” Brian said.

Principal Mark Manning, who came to the high school this year from the Frelinghuysen Middle School, watched the film fest with a sense of wonder.

“I’m happily envious,” he said, beaming. “I never had teachers like this. It was all about the 3 R’s. This is a really different way to help engage kids, and keep them connected to the other things that are important in the curriculum.”


Photos from the 2014 MHS Film Fest. Please click icon below for captions.

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