Harriet Tubman Charter School is known for its middle school club program, which offers students the opportunity to participate in clubs that are led by teachers who are passionate about a specific topic or subject. Some of the clubs are athletic or arts-focused, while others focus on possible future careers. Angelo Cross, the Director of Family and Community at Harriet Tubman Charter School, wanted to create a club that kids would enjoy and that would capitalize on skills like public speaking and English Language Arts. Having an interest in the film industry himself, Angelo decided to create the Movie Making Club. Tubman students are surveyed at the beginning of the year to rank their club preferences. When 15 students ranked the Movie Making Club as their top choice, Angelo knew the club was off to a strong start. 

The club’s end goal was to enter Louisiana’s Film Prize Junior competition. After watching a few short films to get a sense of the format, and reviewing the outline of a sample script, the club members discussed as a group what kind of film they wanted to make.

Ultimately, Tubman scholars developed 1st Day Blues, a story about a student’s first day at a new middle school. Instead of having a smooth first day, the student’s younger sibling messes up his clothing, and he attends his first day of school not looking his best. The student’s messy clothing catches the eye of the class bully, but he stands up for himself. The bully, not liking the student’s confidence, announces his plans to beat up the student at the end of the school day. The student is then on a journey to figure out how to get out of school before the day ends. At the end of the film, the student’s little sister stands up to the bully and highlights that anyone can be courageous. 

Once the story and script for 1st Day Blues was finalized, auditions were held. Students and teachers alike auditioned for the short film. “Having teachers come in to audition really set the bar high for the kids,” Angelo said. “Seeing the teachers audition alongside them really made students want to showcase what they could do.” 

In two weeks, the student playing the main character learned all of his lines, and two 8th graders became the film’s directors. While on set, participating students learned how to edit, proofread scripts, convey feedback, and work as a team. 

The quality of the equipment used by Tubman to create the short film impacted students’ experience as well. The film was shot on high-quality equipment provided by Panavision, a camera and film rental company. Tubman submitted a successful grant proposal to the company and was able to have professional lights and cameras, as well as monitors that enabled students to see themselves in real-time on the set. “One of the reasons that students gained so much from the Movie Making Club was because they had such a hands-on experience,” Angelo added. 

1st Day Blues won the award for Best Drama out of 80 films. They also won the Shane Brown Memorial Award, which gives the school a $250 grant to enter into the festival again next year. After the success of this project, Angelo said it would be a disservice to not offer it again to those who did not get to participate last year. Angelo added, “The purpose of having clubs here at Tubman is to help kids figure out what they’re interested in, as well as to give them new experiences.”

Watch Tubman’s short film, 1st Day Blues below.