Telluride Mountainfilm: Shakespeare High to close Aspen's 3rd annual MountainSummit

Telluride Mountainfilm: Shakespeare High to close Aspen's 3rd annual MountainSummit

[click “Play”, Susan chats with Sarah Rosenberg and Luis Cardenas]


Mountainfilm in Telluride and Aspen’s Wheeler Opera House announce their third annual joint production: MountainSummit: Mountainfilm in Telluride. The event bookends the Main Event, the annual of gathering of the tribe in Telluride, which happens over Memorial weekend and opens Telluride’s summer festival season with a bang: lots of conversations about preserving and protecting endanger people, places and ideas.

MountainSummit takes place Thursday,  August 25 – Sunday, August 28. Among the films to be screened are “Magic Trip,” about the 1960s travels of writer Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, Christopher Paine’s “Revenge of the Electric Car,” a follow-up to Paine’s 2006 documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car?”, and “Happy,” a multicultural examination of the universal truths about happiness, produced by Tom Shadyac (“I Am”).  The event closer and what a grand finale it is: “Shakespeare High.”

“Shakespeare High” was at the tippy top of Telluride Inside… and Out’s list of 2011 Mountainfilm favorites. And we were not alone. The Nugget Theatre was packed with young people and adults the afternoon we attended the screening. How to sum up the feeling in the room? Remember “Breaking Away,” the 1979 coming of age biking film about a group of Midwest teens? Remember “Rocky?” Or “Strictly Ballroom,” which had its North American premiere at the Telluride Film Festival in the early 1990s? In each of those films, the underdog triumphs, cheered on – literally – by each and every person in the audience. That’s how it was with “Shakespeare High.”  In a blink, the boys from East LA’s Pacoima Valley, several former gangbangers, became our boys: Tosh Hall, Oscar Fernandez simply had to win or there was no justice in the world. (Ah, well, there used to be.)

“Shakespeare High” is a feature-length documentary that tells the story of a socio-economic cross-section of teens in Southern California who study Shakespeare to compete in a drama Festival run by the many thousand-strong volunteer teacher organization: DTASC (Drama Teachers Association of Southern California). The Festival, now 90 years old, counts among its alumnae Val Kilmer, Richard Dreyfuss, Mare Winningham, Sally Field, Nicolas Cage and Kevin Spacey. Spacey is also an executive producer (through Trigger Street) of the film.

The primary focus of “Shakespeare High” is these under-served teens, whose immersion in high-school drama programs compels them to overcome difficulties and create better lives. All of the teens face challenges at home, including poverty, gangs, drugs, lack of mentorship/parenting, and the trials and tribulations of just being adolescent. Through their inspirational stories, we see the impact an arts education has on their lives, providing them with community, focus, passion, communication skills, self-confidence, and self-awareness. Simply put, the Bard is the ticket to ride out of the ‘hood.

Tosh and Oscar were on hand in Telluride for the screening and performed a scene from Shakespeare, icing on the celluloid cake. Along with them were the teachers who made it all happen: Luis Cardenas and Sarah Rosenberg.

To learn more, follow this link to hear our interview with Tosh and Oscar. Watch Clint Viebrock’s video summary of Mountainfilm 2011 (for the scene with the boys) and then click the “play” button to listen to my interview with Luis and Sarah.

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