In-person film festival returns to honor student stars

DeKalb County School District (DCSD) held its annual student film festival on March 21, featuring 19 films written, filmed, and edited by DCSD students.

The films premiered at Plaza Theatre in Atlanta and included two categories (novice and advanced) judged by a panel of three industry professionals. The 2023 film festival was also the district’s first in-person festival since changing to an online format for the pandemic.

DeKalb School of Arts won four of the eight advanced categories as senior Sway Powers’ film won the Overall Winner award for Brink of Hell – which also won two other first-place awards. Powers directed, filmed, edited, and acted every role in her film. Lakeside High School also won Best Cinematography and Best Set Design in the advanced category.

“I really wanted to prove a point with this film, that you really don’t need much to create something great. Just being creative is the biggest part of the process as a student filmmaker,” said Powers.

Chamblee, Lakeside, Arabia Mountain, and Columbia high schools made up the novice category winners.

Officials from DCSD, re:Imagine, Decide DeKalb, other partners, joined the judges in hosting the event in the packed Plaza Theatre.

“If you look at the talent we have in DeKalb, we can’t lose, and you can see all the talent in the room. We don’t have to go to Hollywood, Hollywood is here,” said DeKalb County Commissioner Larry Johnson.

Student filmmakers were also treated to a red-carpet experience with pictures and interviews in Plaza Theatre’s lobby before the films started.

Judge Javon Johnson—an actor, writer, and producer who has worked at Tyler Perry Studios and other television industry employers—said it’s always special to watch students’ creations.

“Events like this are critical. Sometimes we take for granted that a young developing mind can make valuable contributions,” said Javon Johnson. “You never know the profound impact that a young person seeing their film on the screen can have. It can be a long-lasting effect on someone that can carry them through their journey.”

He added that in addition to the festival being a source of motivation, it also can build connections.

“Anybody working in the film industry is always looking for the next great talent and next great mind, so we can give them opportunities to grow and get their career started. Someone might even get lucky and get a job right out of the gate, especially with Atlanta being the market that it is. You might find a gem here at the festival,” said Javon Johnson.

The films were shown at Plaza Theatre in Atlanta.

DeKalb Board of Education member Allyson Gevertz added that her children had friends in DCSD who made lasting connections through film festivals.

“They used those connections to leverage jobs while they were in school at Georgia State. This kind of event links students to future jobs.”

“Because of the film studios in DeKalb — there’s also career tech opportunities for them to build sets. There was some talk with [former superintendents] about a program where kids would build sets for Blackhall,” said Gevertz.

She said school board members hope to do the same thing with the Assembly Studios development being built by Gray Television in Doraville.

“We really started those conversations in 2018 when Ramona [Tyson] was our superintendent,” said former school board member Marshall Orson.

Orson added that there are more industry jobs for building sets, lighting, camera work, and other behind-the-scenes production aspects than there are acting and writing jobs. He said developing those pathways has been a focus of the DCSD Career, Technical and Agricultural (CTAE) department, but he hopes DeKalb goes even further with the program and integrates it into more schools.

DCSD CTAE Coordinator Tom McFerrin said all student filmmakers in attendance received a “swag bag” and that district officials are coordinating with studios in metro Atlanta to give the winners a tour of select studios. He added that district officials “always get winners tickets to the Atlanta Film Festival.”

McFerrin said DCSD students “really stepped up” this year with their creativity and all-around work.

“The winning film from the past couple of years really stood out. Last night, there were three or four that I thought could win it,” said McFerrin. “Some of the novice films ones blew us away too, but some of the advanced films were unbelievable.”

Winners also received trophies.

He attributed the increased quality to the festival’s partner re:Imagine, which is a regular vendor for DCSD CTAE but a new partner for the film festival.

“I leaned on them to go in, meet with teachers, set up individual workshops at the school for sound, lighting, or acting. That was pushed on them, that we’d set up the whole festival and for re:Imagine to go in and help the kids. They couldn’t touch anything or edit, but they really helped the students prepare for this,” said McFerrin.

See below for a full list of winners from both categories:

Best Overall
Dekalb School of the Arts: Brink of Hell

Novice Category

Overall Best Editing: Chamblee High School: Guise

Overall Best Cinematography: Chamblee High School: Guise

Overall Best Acting: Lakeside High School: Friendship

Overall Best Sound: Lakeside High School: Friendship

Overall Best Set Design: Arabia Mountain High School: Wishing Well

Overall Best Wardrobe: Columbia High School: The Shattering

Advanced Category

Overall Best Editing: DeKalb School of the Arts: Brink of Hell

Overall Best Cinematography: Lakeside High School: Presque Vu

Overall Best Acting: DeKalb School of the Arts: The Sitcom

Overall Best Sound: DeKalb School of the Arts: The Real Talk

Overall Best Set Design: Lakeside High School: Presque Vu

Overall Best Wardrobe: DeKalb School of the Arts: Brink of Hell


Featured image provided by DeKalb County School District


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