Avalon and Sawyer meet Hannah Jordan at the Arlington Theater’s red carpet. (Courtesy photo)
Students from the Santa Barbara Middle School (SBMS) Teen Press were given the opportunity to cover the Santa Barbara International Film Festival as accredited reporters, joining the professional media and other school reporters at films and tributes during 10 days in January.
Asked what was important about the experience, 6th-grader Reese P. said: “The most amazing thing was talking to people I didn’t know, and not freaking out. [I realized that] the worst thing that could happen is that I would have to repeat the question.”
She attributed her confidence to the research she had done to prepare to speak with, for example, Cinema Vanguard Award recipient Laura Dern.
“I told myself that she was just another human being, except famous,” said Sophia C., a 7th-grader, talking about her red-carpet experience interviewing Montecito Award recipient Lupito Nyong’o. “She was very gracious answering our questions, and seemed like she was having fun — I was.”
“It was still school, but more fun than school,” said 7th-grader Emma H. “I got to talk with really interesting people who’d gone so far in life, and I feel like they appreciated that we were there, I sure did.
“One of the subjects brought her golden eagle, and I was a little worried about it, but the people were very nice, and it was an amazing experience,” she said with regards to an interview with the filmmakers of “Overland,” a documentary about falconing, at their mountainside residence during the SBIFF.
Because the timing of SBIFF this year put a break in SBMS elective quarters in the middle of the festival, two different teams of reporters (Teams 42 and 43) were on duty.
“Renée [Zellweger] said so many positive things about us that it really made me feel good about myself,” said Emma. “And my question: What advice would you give to your 12-year-old self? stumped Brad Pitt.”
Sawyer S. also interviewed filmmakers on and off the red carpet, covering Tell My Story, as well as the Santa Barbara documentary Shorts on closing night.
Recalling his conversation with the father of a teenager who had committed suicide (the subject of Tell My Story), “the homework assignment he gave us was to go outside, and play like kids did in the 1960s [without digital devices] … all day long.”
Sawyer said two of the most interesting people he interviewed on closing night were Randy Johnson, the 65-year-old rodeo rider of “The Last Ride” and Hannah Jordan, the 17-year-old bike racer, also of “Hannah’s Ride.”
“He was crazy — in a good way,” Sawyer said. “I’ve never seen someone kiss another person’s hand before. And Hannah is an amazing woman. She’s achieved so much in her life. My mom had a feeding tube during the summer, and hated it. Hannah has one permanently, but has turned herself into a champion.”
Santa Barbara Middle School TEEN PRESS was founded to cover the 22nd edition of SBIFF in 2007.
SBMS TEEN PRESS has covered two inaugurations, 13 SBIFFs, five MountainFilm Telluride festivals, and a visit to Austin for South X Southwest. It has travelled to Las Vegas to cover Interbike, San Francisco for Macworld Expo, NAIS Convention, Sacramento to cover state government, and multiple trips to Los Angeles to cover journalism, charity events and alumni.
Teen Press members have interviewed a diverse range of people from doctors, to city planners, to educators, to artists, to homeless, and to activists of all stripes.
In 2015 filmmakers TC Johnstone and Ryan Scheer documented some of the work of TEEN PRESS Team 26 in order to make “TEEN PRESS: The Movie,” part of an effort to spread the program’s special type of student journalism to other schools across the country and the globe.
There are now ongoing programs in Oregon, Indiana and Minnesota, as well as U.S. State Department-sponsored programs in Belarus and Ukraine.