“The kids were dedicated to walking their own paths, determined to celebrate the things they found for themselves and not the things the mainstream culture offered them. They were the kids with the leather jackets, the ‘weird’ haircuts and the love for music you didn’t hear on the radio. They marched to their own drum beat.” Film teacher Kevin Bennett smiled remembering his students from the mid 1990s. “All of them took on learning as something they did for themselves, discovering new philosophers, writers, books, bands and artists. They were downtown Portland kids, at Powell’s Books and The Satyricon Nightclub and performing in their own bands or poetry readings. They were close to one another and supportive.”
Photos from Arts & Communication High School’s early years are a beautiful reminder that our school has always been a home for those who think just a little differently. The colored hair, elaborate eye makeup, and not quite mainstream look that defined A & C then is one that feels familiar to students who walk our hallways today. Those photographs from the 1990s capture moments in time, but for a living breathing look at our school from that time one only needs to look as far as our student filmmakers.
Those student movies, taken with a clunky video camera perched atop a student’s shoulder, are moving pictures of a time at Arts & Communication that feels both as recognizable as today and somehow very, very long ago.
This fall, Adin, a current ACMA senior, took a box of dusty VHS tapes from the mid 1990s and went through the laborious effort of converting them to digital files. Boisterous, boozy, and comfortable showing everything from gunfights to cigarettes, these films are time capsules from an era when social expectations and rules of propriety seemed very, very different than they are at schools today. They are also beautiful moving images of our campus as it was during the Clinton administration.
Got Orange?, a short film by Brandon Rubesh, Kevin Coe, and Tim Baldwin takes audiences inside the student lounge, down the hallways of a school before they were filled with murals, and out onto a backyard complete with a giant tree that toppled in a later windstorm. The portables are there, as is the principal’s office, but both look different than they do today, as does the blue trim of the school, the chalkboards and the thick TV’s of an age before contemporary computers, and a parking lot full of sharp edged cars and trucks. It’s fun, however, to see the halls filled with students making movies, laughing, and looking a lot like they do in 2018.
Jay and Peter gave a wink and a nod to their filmmaking class in their offering How to Slack Off in Video 1. Students watching the film today marvel at the antiquated technology, the lack of a performing arts center, and the “extra” basketball hoop in the courtyard, yet they seen in these filmmakers the familiar wit of high school students, and the variety of camera angles taught to ACMA filmmakers today.
Capturing the sound and spirit of the ‘90s was Joe Carpenter’s music video, a meandering tour of campus that allows us to peek into classrooms as they were almost a quarter century ago. With the growl of grunge as a soundtrack, our flannel clad protagonist selects a CD, puts it absurdly on a record player, and proceeds to stroll, crawl, and lounge through campus showing a hundred little differences and more than a few similarities to campus today.
There’s a beautiful iconoclasm to each of these filmmakers, and others whose content prompts the principal I am to not post them on YouTube. They are a reminder that for decades there has been no more filmed campus than ACMA.
These creative souls made the movies they wanted to make under the tutelage of an instructor who loved and valued them for who they were. As Mr. Bennett said: “They were the kids who ‘didn’t fit’ into the mainstream. They forged their own paths. That’s why so many of them were fearless enough to come to a school that had just been created. They were not interested in being a part of something that had already been formed, they were the blank canvas types, ready and willing to paint their own ideas and create their own experiences, to make a new kind of school.”