Schooling Us

With the 2017 deadline fast approaching, it seems like a good time to take another look at last year's winners and, in particular, two entrants from the schools' section. Every year, scores of schools from Australia and New Zealand activate their media classes, scour lost property for costumes, call on resources from across their communities, and turn their classrooms into film sets to produce an enormous cinematic range that covers every film style imaginable.

Judges' Choice Short Film winner, Seeing Shai (written and directed by Ming Dao Ting from Northside Christian College in Brisbane), demonstrates real cinematographic skill with a deceptively simple story based around a group of students discussing one of their classmates, Shai Mayberry, who has Downs Syndrome. Their conversation takes us inside the often well-meaning but misguided ideas about a person with disability. Showcasing great camera work, sophisticated editing and assured acting from the young cast, the film cuts between the circle of students, re-enactments of their misconceptions and footage of how Shai really lives and engages with his school. Deftly skewering the notion that Shai is someone to feel sorry for, it reveals a person who is more engaged and active in his community than any of them. The film culminates in a triumphant address to camera from Shai himself, proudly demanding that we see him not through 'what I cannot do but what I can do'.

Winner of the schools' documentary section, Through My Eyes, comes from Lyndale Secondary College in Victoria. This story focuses on Tom Anderson, a student with a degenerative vision impairment that may in time result in his becoming completely blind. Like Seeing Shai, the film opens with other people's perceptions, as Tom's friends and classmates offer their summations of him, from heartfelt admiration to declarations such as 'Tom is a modern day Einstein' that you suspect might have been suggested by Tom himself. From there on, the voice is all Tom's as he describes his life and attitude with eloquence, humour and a fearlessness that ultimately redefines 'normal'. Even if faced with the opportunity to fix his vision, he declares he 'probably wouldn't'.

These two fine films are standouts, but there were over 70 entrants from schools in 2016, all brimming with ideas, humour, invention and a deep understanding of their subjects.

You can see them all here: