Fathers and Sons

What Ivan Turgenev’s 1862 novel Fathers and Sons was doing on my high school English reading list is beyond me. I taught English myself for more than a dozen years and never included that particular Russian, nor even saw Fathers and Sons in the book room of any school where I ever worked.

But there it was in 1987, on Mr. Shinkle’s syllabus, tucked in with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Madame Bovary. I loved Kesey, read Flaubert, and never cracked the cover of Turgenev.

F&SOver the years, particularly when I was teaching English, I thought about that.

For a long time as an English teacher I believed that I needed to curate my students’ reading list. I was the one with the college education after all. I had ideas about what books were important, what books mattered.

Sometimes I think I was almost right.

I marshaled my kids through The Odyssey, Hamlet, Huck Finn, all the classics. Frankenstein I came back to year after year, and I had a unit that swung like a gate on Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. That one took me a long time to get right.

As a more veteran teacher my tastes expanded, and I was happy to add Haruki Murakami, Zora Neale Hurston, and Toni Morrison to my reading list, but it was still my reading list.

A few more years in I allowed myself to let the kids choose. They did, and what they did broadened my own understanding. We were way past The Great Gatsby or The Scarlet Letter by then, and the kids were excited about what they were reading.

I could still introduce them to Virginia Woolf or John Barth, pull back the curtains on Tennessee Williams or share a plum with William Carlos Williams, but the students were showing me authors I’d never heard of and more important than that they were talking with each other about the literature that brought to life a spark in them.

I’ve been an administrator now long enough that I almost forgot about that.

Then, last week, walking in the hallway outside the library of the school where I’m now the principal I spotted it on the rolling cart of library discards. Fathers and Sons.

The sign on the cart read:

FREE BOOKS
Please take one
Never bring it back to ACMA
If you decide you do not want it, give it to a friend, or leave it somewhere, like a waiting room. Thanks!

The ghost of Mr. Shinkle whispered for me to pick it up. I did.

Over spring break I spent some time with Bazarov, a staunch nihilist I hadn’t really been introduced to when I was seventeen; Arkady, his friend, too nice to be a true misanthrope; Nikolai Petrovich, a patriarch and decent man; and Odintsova, the powerful woman whose charisma wound through so many lives.

IMG_0168Fathers and Sons is a novel with lots of big ideas and contemplation on youth and age. At the risk of sounding like that book report my teenage self never turned in, the novel follows two sons, just out of college and at the start of their adult lives, and two fathers (along with assorted wives, lovers, uncles, and hangers on) who carry with them the scuffs and scars of lives long lived.

It is a book that wrestles with romanticism, questions meaning, and ultimately shows (in a more realistic way than I’d expected) the tension between generations.

Early in the story a son is prompted to take his father’s book of poetry away and replace it with something more sensible. “A couple of days ago I saw him reading Pushkin,” the son remarks. His young friend replies: “Please tell him that’s no good at all. He’s not a child any longer and it’s time he gave up that childish nonsense. Fancy being a romantic at the present day! Give him something worthwhile to read.” So the father allows his book to be replaced with something modern and German. It works as well as a rubber anvil.

That’s not to say nihilism wins in the end; Pushkin looms large throughout the book, and I was pleased to see that those characters who fared best in the end were the ones who had been kindest throughout the narrative. I might have thought that trite a few decades back. I appreciate it all today.

Literature has a way of finding us when we need it. The providence of a falling sparrow Hamlet talked about and all that, another book Mr. Shinkle taught me.

IMG_0169 (1)I’m the father now, not the son, and the book I dodged as a teenager felt different on my nightstand as an adult. Those passages where Turgenev talks about the simultaneous folly and power of youth mean something different to me now than they would have if I’d read them thirty some years ago, when instead I was thinking about the 80s version of what high schoolers still think about today: love, belonging, one’s place in the world …and socializing, eating cheap pizza, and having fun after school.

I’m more patient now as a reader, embracing the tangents and loose focus of the narrative, the familiarity of the author, and the pauses for history lessons. As a fellow approaching fifty, I appreciated Turgenev’s non sequiturs like the line: “It is a well known fact that our provincial towns burn down every five years,” offered without explanation and left behind as quickly as it came up.

I also dug those passages that just felt true: “Arkady was puzzled and watched her in the way that young people watch -that is to say, constantly asking himself what it all meant.”

Heavens, that was me at seventeen.

With gray in my hair, I empathize with a different cast of characters than I would have in 1987. Sure, I can smile at Bazarov’s youthful arrogance and Arkady falling in love, but those are not the fellows I relate to most. Instead, it is in the fathers, not the sons, that I find feelings that resonate.

Midway through the novel, when one young protagonist leaves home, tired of what he considers his tiresome parents and longing to return to a woman he finds interesting and world he sees as his to take, one of the fathers of the title bemoans being “given up” by his son. At eighteen I’m sure I would have identified with that son, headed off to conquer the world; a father now myself, I read this passage, where a wise wife comforts her husband, differently:

There’s nothing for it, Vasya! Our son’s cut off from us. He’s a falcon, like a falcon he wanted to come and he flew here, then he wanted away and he flew away. But you and I, we’re just a couple of mushrooms, we are, stuck in the hollow of a tree, sitting side by side and never moving. Except that I’ll always remain the same for you for ever and ever, just as you will for me.”

My wife and I celebrated our 27th wedding anniversary over spring break, taking our kids out for dinner. More mushroom now that falcon, I hear in Turgenev something beautiful and true, something I couldn’t have understood in 1987 …not even if I’d read the Fathers and Sons.

I won’t take the book back to the rolling library cart; I’m enough of a rule follower not to do that. Though Bazarov would, I suppose. Instead, I’ll tuck it on the bookshelf in my office, a reminder that so much of our stories, and how we understand the stories around us, is a matter of perspective. Maybe that was the lesson Mr. Shinkle wanted me to learn.

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Quonset Hut

Delightful is his feigned disbelief.

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For an art school to create professional grade painting, drawing, dance, music, theater, sculpture, writing, and film in a building closed as an elementary school in 1974 is astounding to begin with. Dancers working in portables, musicians too, two programs that would seem to require bigger, better, and more specialized spaces, and not just making due, but making beautiful art should have jaws dropping. That filmmakers can produce polished products from a trailer, or that art studios housed in what were once elementary school classrooms can be the launching pad of stellar sculpture and fine art should inspire disbelief, legitimate disbelief, at least from anyone not familiar with Arts & Communication Magnet Academy. And yet…

For any of us who work here, who have gone to school at ACMA, or who are the families of ACMA artists (of any kind) making it work with what we have has been a part of our artistic life as long as the school has been around. When the students decided ACMA needed a gallery, they built one. When the students recognized that they needed to make the school their own, they painted murals. And when the burgeoning dance and theatre programs found themselves without a performance space, they took to the Quonset Hut.

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Before the Performing Arts Center came to ACMA, students acted, danced, and made music on a stage in one of the most recognizable parts of campus, the round roofed building that has been, in its history on campus reaching back to 1958, an indoor play area, gym, and cafeteria.

Seeing productions on the main stage of the PAC today, it’s hard to imagine that this same high quality programing could ever take place in what looks like an airplane hanger, and yet…

IMG_0780In 2007, film teacher Corbin Supak played the role of a visitor to ACMA in 11th grader Megan Gould’s short film that embraced this dissonance. The PAC was less than two years away, which may have given these artists the piece of mind to poke fun at their “FOOD COURT / AUDITORIUM,” and poke fun they did.

The show begins with Mitchell, an earnest ACMA student, welcoming our visitor to a campus that should look familiar to alumni and current students alike. They peek into a converted classroom to see a tap class before heading outside to see “the performance space” for ACMA’s shows.

Screen Shot 2019-03-19 at 2.46.00 PMSpotting the Quonset Hut the guessing begins: Auto shop? Construction? Scene building shop?

“Where is the entrance?” our visitor asks, widening his arms to suggest a grand marquee. “It’s right there, next to the trash can,” deadpans our host. They go inside, past the “ACMA Breakfast Special” and into “the performers entrance?!?!” Not so much.

After noticing the “installation art piece” of a water cooler and some microwaves, our pair stop to listen to a rehearsal of the upcoming play. “Mime?” he asks. “No.”

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They notice cafeteria coolers, stacks of tables, and signs proclaiming ACMA an exceptional school. With a smile almost touching his lips, our host asserts: “This is legitimate theatre.”

This low key critique of the state of arts facilities at ACMA stands the test of time, and as we prepare to close up the C.E. Mason Elementary building that ACMA has called home for more than a quarter century, it’s fun to look back at the place we’ve made work for so long. As in the student film, any cheeky (feigned) disbelief (because we know that we’ve spun gold from straw for so long) is made easier knowing that a new space is on the horizon, a campus opening in the fall of 2021 designed to be an art school.

In three or four years will the current photography room, film room, and art studios be thought of as being as antiquated as the Quonset Hut? Maybe. I’ll wager that those of us who are able to spend time at both sites will have stories to tell that will make students new to ACMA widen their eyes.

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Inside

Close to a hundred of us gathered in the library, cameras out, curiosity high, ready to see what was going to happen. At the front of the room our assistant principal and a senior stood together, masks over their faces, goggles on their eyes, power tools and a crowbar laid out in front of them on a table. Also on the table was a box.

box

Beautiful patinated copper, sealed decades earlier, the box was an object that had been in the principal’s office longer than most of our students had been alive.

Rumor had it that the box was found when workers moved a sign denoting the construction of C.E. Mason Elementary and opened the wall where it had been stowed. With no markings on the box and no indication who had put it there or how long it had been tucked behind the metal plaque, it got put on a shelf and there it stayed.

Screen Shot 2019-03-15 at 1.48.55 PMUntil today.

A few weeks back we started advertising the event, our opening the box that we believed was a time capsule. No one knew how old it was, or to be honest even if it was a time capsule. Old cynics wondered if there would actually be anything interesting inside. One cheeky alum suggested it might “unleash the demonic horde upon its unsealing.”

But we opted to brave disappointment or swirling demons, and during an all school lunch we gathered anyone interested in joining our adventure, prepped the power tools, and cued up a couple of cameras to capture the event.

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It took some work, but we broke into the box, pulled away a flap of copper, and looked inside. What we found was amazing.

IMG_0742Three stout newspapers were tucked in the time capsule, dated 1951. From them we learned about a school bond measure, rattling sabers of international conflict, and the shocking headline: BOY TUSSLES, DIES. Ye gads. One student asked afterward: “People really read these?” We assured him they did.

More local were copies of Live Wire, the elementary school newspaper, complete with jokes, updates, and stories written by the first through fifth graders. An example: “What can a canary do that a strong man can’t do? ans. Take a bath in a saucer.”

Screen Shot 2019-03-15 at 1.31.17 PMA photograph of the land on which the school was built came next, a glimpse back at 1947 when Beaverton looked much more rural than it does today.

An accompanying document, aged to sepia, informed us that the price of the parcel was $11,000 for “ten acres, more or less.”

Next out of the box were a fistful of envelopes, carefully labeled, containing documents relating to the school: a Teachers’ Bulletin, a Parent-Teachers Program, and a Teachers’ Handbook. That handbook told us that “every teacher should train her homeroom in good citizenship to prevent vandalism” and that “freak or cruel punishments should never be used, and all corporal punishment will be administered by the superintendent.”

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More photos came next, smiling faces of the children of C.E. Mason Elementary. Many of these pupils, to borrow the parlance of the age, would be in their seventies now. A couple of our current kids wondered aloud if we might track them down. We might.

Screen Shot 2019-03-15 at 1.35.53 PMIncluded was an Oregon Department of Education report on the school, which proudly reported “The spirit of the school is excellent. Children show their pride in the new school by their behavior as they move quietly and busily about the building. They show a desire to learn and an enthusiasm about the school curriculum. A pleasant comradeship among the teachers reflects a comfortable environment.”

A history of the Beaverton Schools written by 8th grade students told us that “in the 1890s, boys and girls of Beaverton went to school in a three room, frame schoolhouse …at the entrance to the school yard was a sort of stile, with steps designed to keep stray stock from entering—at that time cattle and other animals roamed about pretty much as they pleased.” 1890 was closer to 1951 than 1951 is to today.

Another envelope labeled “silver coins” revealed $1.80 in nickels, quarters, dimes, and a half dollar, not enough to buy anything fancy, but a treasure nonetheless.

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Rolled up tight beside the envelopes were a stack of scrolls signed by the faculty of C.E. Mason Elementary and each of the classes. From familiar (to Beaverton educators) names like Errol Hassell to the childish scrawl and budding penmanship of 1950s youngsters, these lists of names made a personal impression on those of us gathered in the library.

Screen Shot 2019-03-15 at 1.29.23 PMTucked inside with the rest of it all was as pamphlet from the Masonic Lodge. Somehow that felt right.

Principal Esther Peer’s “Monthly Report” told us the details of the school: 198 students filled C.E. Mason, with four tardies for the month, and a 98.2% attendance rate. I can picture her sitting in this same office I’m in today, pencil in hand, writing out the report with beautiful precision.

Right now, of course, my office smells like 1951.

With the box open and lunch at an end, the assembled students and staff went back to classes, thinking, maybe, about the faces of those who have filled these hallways before us. The former English teacher that I am couldn’t help but think of Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society inviting students to lean in and really look at the faces of the lads who had come before them. Carpe Diem, he whispered, seize the day.

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Throughout this year our school has taken the opportunity to look back over the decades that this campus has welcomed students, from the opening of C.E. Mason Elementary through short stays by Five Oaks Middle School, Greenway Elementary, and a slew of special programs, and finally the establishment of Arts & Communication in 1992. These reflections help to give us perspective, root us in history, and show us a human face for the passage of time.

When we open our new building in 2021, seven decades after the first school opened on this site, our current students will install a time capsule of their own. How I wonder what the principal and her students in 2090 or so will think when they break open our box.

I hope that they will have that same feeling of wonder and exhilaration that we all felt in the library today, that looking back and seeing ourselves, that experience of connection with a group of people learning and laughing where we now do.More than history, today’s grand opening of that present from 1951 was true inspiration. Carpe Diem. Lean in. Seize the day.

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We’re working to scan and photograph all the objects from this marvelous collection, and we hope to have it online in early April.

Gramps

His email arrived like a gust of Alaskan wind, ruffling an otherwise uneventful Thursday and bringing with it a hearty smile.

Nanuq!

That’s Inupiaq Eskimo for Bjorn.

I’m trying to find the photos of my grandfather, Dr. CE Mason, which I know I have someplace. I fear they may be in my Conex shipping container, which is at this time completely buried in snow.

But these two photos are good for a start. They were taken by my grandmother, Bertha Clement Mason. She developed and printed her own photos. The information says they were both taken on the Canby to Molalla Road.

I’ll keep looking for the other photos. Gramps was a big fan of getting studio portraits taken.

thanks,

James Mason
Nome Alaska

As many folks know, I spent the better part of the fall searching for a photograph of C.E. Mason, the fellow our school building was named after in 1949, a local doctor and school board member, and a truly valued citizen of our little town in the first half of the 20th century. He was, by all accounts, also known as being generous to those he served as a physician, an advocate for quality education in Beaverton, and an extremely kind person.

Stories of the hundreds and hundreds of babies he delivered in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, many in peoples’ homes, abound, as do memories of him taking in payment what his patients could afford. As I heard these stories in the fall, I could imagine him traveling the dirt roads out to farms, calling on those in need with the care, kindness, and professionalism that would endear him to generations of Beaverton families.

With this note from his grandson James came photographs that brought those imaginations to life. The first was of Dr. Mason traveling by horse and buggy.

DR. CE Mason 1912. Near Canby Oregon

I could almost hear the clop of the horses and see the doctor as he bent his head toward the work at hand, helping those in need. It reminded me of a story told to me by one of C.E. Mason’s other grandsons, Richard, who said that once he “met an old couple whose family farm had been sold to build a new housing development. The couple, twin brother and sister, had a fascinating personal story that still made them smile.

“They were born at home in the late thirties to a young mother. Back then, twins were a challenge, so apparently C.E. never told their mother she had twins. She went into labor late one night and C.E. drove out to the farm and delivered the first baby around 11:30 at night. Then, he told the mother, “My goodness, we’ve got another baby in here.”

“The mother said, “Well, I’m exhausted.  I’m going to sleep.” After 45 minutes, she awakened and pushed out the other baby, which was born at 12:15 am. The two were delighted to tell people (all their lives) that although they were twins, they had different birthdays.  They smiled when they told me the story and they were in their late 70’s.”

Dr. CE Mason 1912

The next picture, from the same era, shows the tall, lean C.E. Mason, bowler hat and dark suit, standing in a very Oregonian landscape. Not one to be confined to a city, I thought, not unlike his grandson in Nome.

Look close at this photo and you’ll see the rutted dirt road on which Dr. Mason piloted his horse and buggy. From his dapper bowler and bow tie to his well worn shoes, C.E. Mason is every inch a country doctor who made a difference. I can almost make out his stethoscope bulging from his coat pocket.

I love the fact that it was Bertha Mason who took and developed the photographs, something I mentioned to our current photography classes when I showed them the pictures. She was an artist in her own right, I thought, looking at that photo in the woods, and a good one at that.

Dr. CE Mason and wife Bertha

Another email followed the first, with two more delightful pictures. The first gives a face to Bertha, standing beside her husband, taken sometime around 1910. They’re a handsome couple, poised on the start of a grand adventure that will take them from Illinois to Oregon.

The final photo is a studio portrait from 1960. The fifty years that separate these two photographs were filled with so very much history, including in 1949 the naming of a new Beaverton Elementary School after the good doctor. Arts & Communication Magnet Academy now lives on the spot of C.E. Mason Elementary, and as we look to rebuild campus at the end of this year, it makes me happy to have a photograph that we can frame and put in our office, a nod to a founding father, and a reminder that kindness and generosity, dapper bowlers and well worn shoes, a sense of civic spirit and a dedication to education will always have a place in our school.

Dr. CE Mason

On a personal note, I want to say a heartfelt thank you to James Mason for sharing these beautiful photographs of his “gramps.” They bring to life a person I’ve read much about and whose story I am proud to share with our school community. Thanks too to Richard Mason for the memories of C.E. he shared. Learning more about our past helps us gain perspective that can make our collective future better and better. Thank you.

News and a Gong

Screen Shot 2019-02-27 at 3.32.44 PMOne of the joys of looking back over the history of Arts & Communication Magnet Academy is stumbling on photos, stories, and videos that capture a day in the life of our school. Formal performances are wonderful, and looking back at recordings of music, dance, and theatre is an inspiration; yearbooks offer a window into the past, they are chronicles striving to present the year writ large; but for a glimpse into what it was like on campus in years gone by it’s those more impromptu moments, the times when daily life or more modest school events were put on film, that may offer the best seat in the house. Two of these that do a wonderful job of showing life in the early 2000s come in the form of ACMA News and a full recording of the ACMA Gong Show.

Screen Shot 2019-02-27 at 3.48.05 PMWatching the video of the ACMA News is a delight. Predating, but anticipating, “Between Two Ferns,” this adventure in pluck shows the playful charm that one can imagine those same teenagers brought to math class and science class and English. Our hosts introduce several segments, including a look at the major changes to ACMA, with a student body “now above 475 students!” There is also a bit on yearbook photos, with a look behind the scenes at the fans that blew hair and photographers who captured the silliness. A stock market report, a testament to the way in jokes age, is delivered in perfect deadpan. I imagine some of the students who were here at the time will get the gag. A segment on theatre shows the Quonset Hut as performing space. And in a surrealistic turn, “TV Tutors” show up, leaving the audience with an understanding that at ACMA “the news” was as serious as a painting by Dali or a play by Beckett.

Screen Shot 2019-03-08 at 6.33.09 AMIn December 2003 ACMA hosted their own Gong Show. With a run time of just over twenty minutes, the video of the ACMA Gong Show shows flashes of talent, humor, and youthful exuberance, all presented with a dash of silliness that is as much a part of ACMA as artistic ability.

Current ACMA teachers Jon Gottshall and Geoff Hunnicutt, both with fantastic facial hair that should delight today’s students, help judge the affair. When I showed them the video at least one of them confessed to a touch of guilt for banging the cymbal that served as a gong.

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The crowd seemed to love the show, laughing and clapping as the series of performers took the stage for a variety of acts from serious to playfully kooky. From a moving rendition of “Summertime” that had the audience snapping their fingers  to a smiling tune called “Uhhh…” that earned not one but two gongs, ACMA performers worked the crowd, engaged with the judges, and showed ridiculous talent and a willingness to be ridiculous.

Not everyone was sure what to do with a cover of the Talking Heads tune “Psycho Killer,” so in true ACMA style they chose simply to enjoy it …at least until the gong brought the act to an end. Other students finished songs before that cymbal crashed, but even for those who made it, eyes shifting from judge to judge to judge to gong were the rule, rather than the exception.

Screen Shot 2019-02-27 at 3.37.21 PMThe most rigorous gong came for The Dancing People, whose act from beginning to (quick) end brought the crowd to their feet, and the judges too …as they rushed for the gong.

The night ended, as the best Gong Shows do, with our emcee lowering expectations for the winners with: “Keep in mind we don’t have very nice prizes. What’s that? A used pencil!”

The Dancing People were told they needed to share their pencil.

The grand prize, delivered with fantastic game show music and much aplomb …a pencil!

Laughter ensued. So very ACMA.

There is much, much, much more to the story of ACMA in the early 2000s than is captured in these videos, fabulous facts, splendid stories, and marvelous memories, and yet as a slice of life these are clear windows into a creative and wonderful world.

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“Action!”

1The audience laughed, and clapped, and held its collective heart. The film on the screen played to a big audience on the main stage of ACMA’s performing arts center. A collaborative effort, our Film Seminar students were given the challenge to create one film that they wrote, shot, and directed …and edited and mixed …oh, and cast, acted in, and scored.

Clever, heartfelt, and so very professional, Behind the Veil showed ACMA filmmaking at its best.

The students who made the film stepped to the stage afterward to talk about their process and their work. Delightful, honest, and so incredibly thoughtful about their film, they put on a master class in collaborative filmmaking, documenting the challenges of starting with a blank piece of paper, writing and revising, shooting, reshooting, adjusting, and making artistic decisions. The path they described was long, funny, and filled with the creative struggle that often defines great art.

Just from this Q&A the audience could see the genuine chemistry and respectful give and take that seem to have defined the project. There were opinions and strong points of view, artistic visions and practical decisions, wild concepts and grounded approaches to making things work. It was collaboration writ large, and the result was as stunning as the process was inspirational.

That inspiration showed up in the questions the audience asked. Curious to know about their influences, their choice of technology, and their approach to bringing this story to life, the students and adults who filled the theater asked about every aspect of the filmmaking, and the cast and crew were able to answer them in a way that blended the exuberance of being a high school student and the understanding of people who had studied their craft for a long, long time.

Familiarity with the history of film, and true appreciation for certain filmmakers, was evident in the answers students provided about cinematography, direction, and score. Not only were these students able to discuss why Christopher Nolan’s camerawork informed their shooting of specific scenes, for example, they also showed their confident approach to their own work as the student composer described how the director and producer had asked him to score the film, sometimes mentioning film composers by name as inspiration. “She thought I could sound like Hans Zimmer,” he said smiling. Truth be told, his score sounded better than some you’ll see in theaters.

film panel

The film itself was a lovely story of romance as well as a marvelous take on the making of movies. Clever, creative, and self aware without being self serving, Behind the Veil told parallel stories of love, self expression, empowerment, and freedom. The usual cinematic stereotypes and expectations were brought out to be blown up. Genre shifting was deliberate and smart, and most importantly never got in the way of what was a meaningful and heartfelt love story.

One of my favorite moments of a wonderful night was when a student raised her hand and asked the panel two questions: What advice would you give future ACMA students if we’re given this assignment to make a film together? The students answered with humor and insight, offering a mix of good advice and funny anecdotes. Her next question: could this be something Mr. Bennett, ACMA’s film teacher, would do every year?

Hope and expectation are two of the best things art can inspire.

 

If you weren’t able to attend the premiere of Behind the Veil last night, you have one more chance today (March 3rd at 2PM) to see the film, watch a behind the scenes short, and hear the cast and crew talk about their art. If you’re anywhere near campus this afternoon it’s an inspiration you owe it to yourself to enjoy. Not sure? Check out the trailer here!