‘Dreams’ unfold at fourth Morristown High video fest

First-place winner Trevor Stephney is flanked by RJ Meyer (third place) and Kylee Strasser (second). Photo by Kevin Coughlin, june 10, 2016
First-place winner Trevor Stephney is flanked by RJ Meyer (third place) and Kylee Strasser (second). Photo by Kevin Coughlin, june 10, 2016

Video: And the winner is…Trevor Stephney’s Dissension

By Kevin Coughlin

A transfer student, a freshman and a seasoned senior walked off with the top prizes at Morristown High School’s fourth annual film festival on Friday.

The theme was “Dreams,” and Trevor Stephney, a junior transfer from Randolph, took first place with Dissension, a stylish piece about a high schooler who dreams up a sly alter-ego who chides him to defy his mother. Stephney played two roles in addition to producing the film.

“I want to become an actor or filmmaker like Spike Lee,” said Stephney, who has been making videos since the 6th grade.

He spent three months on Dissension, as his family was packing for its move to Morristown. “I just love doing this, and showing my vision,” he said.

Freshman Kylee Strasser was a close second with Find, another visually stunning short movie about an adolescent grappling with her identity.

“I just enjoy being able to put an idea into a visual, and having others find enjoyment out of it,” said Strasser, a self-taught filmmaker who recruited her kid sister for a prime role.

Second Prize: ‘Find’ by Kylee Strasser

RJ Meyer, a senior who plans to study filmmaking at Emerson College, was awarded third place honors for Domenico: Dreaming in Real Time, a textured profile of musical prodigy Domenico Randazzo.

Meyer has honed impressive technical skills over many videos. But he considers this one his most challenging, as his first documentary.

“You have to be able to tell a story, mostly through editing,” Meyer said, adding that time management and organization were crucial. In the end, the exercise reminded him: “I love telling stories.”

Third prize: ‘Domenico: Dreaming in Real Time’ by RJ Meyer


They edged out 23 other student entries to win video gear donated by an anonymous patron.

Submissions were judged by Michael Hill, a correspondent for NJTV News; Paul Rabinowitz, a parent of MHS alums and founder of Arts by the People; and Zaji Zabalerio, an MHS graduate studying film at Emerson College.

“Top to bottom, I think this year was the best quality yet,” said MHS broadcasting teacher Michael Butler, who started the festival with photography teacher Brian Kievning.

NJTV’s Hill said it was hard to rank the top entries because of their “extraordinarily artful” Hollywood production values. “The one I judged the best simply blew me away — it seemed perfect in conception, crafting and every category!”

Writing, pacing and storytelling distinguished the winning selections, the judges said.

Panelists Michael Hill, Zaji Zabalerio and Paul Rabinowicz at the fourth annual MHS Film Fest. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Panelists Michael Hill, Zaji Zabalerio and Paul Rabinowicz at the fourth annual MHS Film Fest. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“The winning entries all had great stories. This is the biggest challenge. They can learn technique, but to piece together a compelling story is very difficult and the hardest part to master for high school students. The top entries all succeeded in doing that,” said Rabinowitz.

“These entries were able to take the theme and own it, and really develop stories that belong to them, stories that mean something for them, then compel me to believe in that, too,” added Zabalario, a 2013 graduate of MHS.

Zabalario also marveled at the contestants’ technical know-how — and at their gear, which has improved dramatically since his days there.

“With Mike Butler’s development of the program, today I really feel like students are given the tools and resources to use the technology to their advantage without any of the hassles I went through in learning this massive and expensive world of tech,” Zabalario said.

“They’re going to shoots knowing how to navigate menus, set their lighting and have that all squared away in no time. It allows them to explore the stories they want to tell.”


There were more prizes at the film screening, which capped the school’s annual week-long arts festival.

Jessica Torres, ’15, presented the Alumni Award to Quentin Bajnath for his film, We Don’t Have Time to Dream.

Butler gave a Founders Award to the team of  Justin Contreras, Billy Davies, Noah Rawding, Ivan Bragin and Jack Harmonay for Spider. 

Another Founders Award, from Kievning, went to Gabby Meerwarth and Paige Rombough for My Heart is In My Dreams.

Seniors Ally Fielding and Matt Prusso, who created Supertask, received a Tricorn award from Kirsten Traudt, editor of the Tricorn literary magazine.

This year also marked Traudt’s third and final year as MHS film fest chairperson.  She is bound for Princeton in the fall, but promised to follow the progress of her cinematic friends from Morristown High.

“I know a lot of my classmates are going to have amazing careers,” she said.


 Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin

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