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Sunday, September 24, 2023

Cinema Arts Centre Hosts 14th Annual Huntington High School Film Festival


When I was asked to cover Huntington High School’s 14th Annual Film Festival at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, New York on Monday evening, my mind instantly reverted to the past.

Over 30 years ago, a brother of mine, enthralled with the Star Wars trilogy (Episodes IV through VI, to be exact), started to create his own film sets out of shoeboxes. Using figurines and stop-go motion techniques courtesy of the family VHS camcorder, at around the age of 11 his budding career as a filmmaker, designer and animator began. Who would know that all of these years later, he would be nominated for an Emmy? In the days leading up to this event, I couldn’t help but ponder if one of Huntington’s own would one day experience a similar accolade; it certainly was worth finding out.

Outside of the theater, I encountered Heather Swan, a 17-year veteran of the classroom in charge of Huntington High School’s video program. I was instantly struck by her amiability; every person entering that theater was met with a smile and sometimes a hug. In the midst of her greetings (who wants to disrupt a hug?), I was able to glean a rudimentary understanding of the program.

There are four levels of video classes, with each class becoming increasingly more difficult. I was told that this festival would showcase 18 student films, with the last being a collaborative effort involving Heather Swan and her students (more on that later!). With great enthusiasm, I was suddenly introduced to senior Katerina Damiano as she made her way towards the theater.

Immediately, I began to wonder: “Could it be her? Could she be the one holding an Oscar in her hand in the not-too-distant future?” — but enough of my reveries. Katerina is on the verge of graduating and will be attending SUNY Purchase College this fall as a film student. She took all four video classes in high school, and credits those classes with helping her to create her portfolio that allowed her to gain entry to film school. Writing comedy is her passion, and I was fortunate to view two of her works.

Taking the Wheel explores a teenage boy who works incessantly to save enough money to buy his dream car only to find out that the family dog is in need of immediate medical care at a time when money is tight; in the end, the boy doesn’t hesitate to use his savings to help their beloved dog. I found this piece to be heartwarming, and a reminder of how art can serve an ethical function.

Katherina’s second entry, Lovestruck (awarded Best Film), had me laughing at its portrayal of teenage angst involving a female high school student who initiates a personal vendetta against Valentine’s Day while at school; however, an ironic twist at the end finds the protagonist in a situation wherein the possibility of romance awaits her. Can anyone truly reject the desire to love and to be loved?

I was truly impressed with the eclectic selections; in addition to short films, the audience was also treated to public service announcements, short documentaries and YouTube tutorials.

The Best Acting award went to the stars of A Lock and a Hard Place directed by William Berry, while Best Editing was given to Stitched Up, the collaborative effort mentioned earlier. Starring Katerina Damiano, David Nielsen Goldstein, Riley LaCosta, Danielle Mendikyan, Michael Mendikyan, Finn O’Brien, Joey Zink and Ms. Swan herself, this dark comedy revolves around Ms. Swan, whose students pay the ultimate price for making her disgruntled when she pulls them into a room from which a green light flashes, only for them to emerge as either stuffed humans or animals.

While that certainly wasn’t the Ms. Swan before me who graciously greeted all in attendance, it was a fitting conclusion to a wonderful evening.

“It was a very exciting evening at the newly remodeled Cinema Arts Centre,” said teacher Heather Swan, who heads Huntington High School’s video arts program. “I was so proud of all of my video students and the incredible display of films we were able to present to our community.” 

Cinema Arts Centre is located at 423 Park Avenue in Huntington. For more information on upcoming showtimes and events at the non-profit arthouse community theater, visit their website at cinemaartscentre.org.

Matt Woythaler is a Baldwin native and Huntington resident. Read up on his brother, Nick, a freelance graphic designer who has crafted key visuals for Marvel Studios, in Editor Michael J. Reistetter’s latest “Reels with Reis” interview spotlight.