As the film industry continues to flourish in Louisiana, students from New Orleans Charter Science and Math High School may well be a part of its future. Recently, a team of its student filmmakers took home the Grand Prize Audience Choice Award at Film Prize Junior 2022, the South’s largest student film festival.
The short film, “Afterparty,” was written, directed and edited by Sci High senior Noel Celestine
The crew included assistant director and editor Nola Szilagi and director of photography Jonas Minor, along with assistants Chilia Hicks, Nelly Gonzales, Alena Irvin and Kira Dupree. Joining Celestine as cast members were Tianna Murray, Rendell Jones, Jeanique Jackson, Deshawn Joseph, Edward Dykes, Amire Tyler, Hassaan Dubuclet, and Alena Irvin.
The film was named as winner of the Audience Choice Award by a combination of audience votes and a decision by the judges, Louisiana Film Prize finalists and former Film Prize Junior staff.
In winning, Sci High received a $1,000 film equipment grant, $500 to celebrate the students’ achievement, and a $500 cash award for the teacher/sponsor, Donte Smallwood.
The nine-minute “Afterparty” tells the story of a high school student who, after a very long day, has a crazy dream in which he attends his crush’s party. Everything is great until the arrival of some unwanted guests, and the dream starts to become a nightmare.
Celstine, 18, describes the rom-com as both a learning experience and a labor of love. He wrote the script after watching hours of how-to videos on YouTube, and then he began a three-month journey to bring his vision to life.
When he started the project, the school was just coming out of the pandemic, so staffing and resources were scarce.
“COVID shut down our productions our junior year, and several of the teachers left, so I kind of just took things on my own,” Celestine said.
He signed up other students for this afterschool project and did the casting call with minimum support. But when Donte Smallwood was hired to teach digital media midyear, the project came to life. Smallwood, a recent graduate of the Dillard University Film Program, became Celestine’s adviser and mentor.
“Mr. Smallwood helped me plan better and let me use his camera and some of his equipment,” Celestine said. “It would have been a whole different process without him.”
None of the students involved in the film were enrolled in Smallwood’s classes, but he volunteered to lend his expertise and, more importantly, his time. Within weeks, the crew was working, rehearsing and learning the filmmaking process.
Smallwood called Celestine the driving force.
“Noel is passionate and a go-getter,” Smallwood said. “If it wasn’t for him, it wouldn’t have happened. He manifested what he envisioned, knew what he wanted, and did what he needed to do to make it happen.”
Celestine said his goal was to complete the project — even if it meant improvising scenes to make the story work.
“The worst thing you can do is not complete something. I’m glad we won, but I made this from a sole passion of what my vision was and how to pursue it. What I really learned through it all was persistence.”
Celestine will attend LSU this fall to study film. He hopes to continue working both in front of and behind the camera like his comedic inspirations, the Wayans Brothers.
In addition to preparing for another year in his digital media classroom, Smallwood is working on a film of his own — a documentary about his college concert choir director at Dillard, Dr. S. Carver Davenport.
“He has created such a legacy of music and culture, I just want to honor him and give him his flowers while he is still here,” Smallwood said.
He shared this advice with Celestine and his other young filmmakers: “Plan. Plan. Plan. That’s the most important part. The more you plan for every detail, the better you can execute in production and post production.”
He also encourages his students to be well-rounded. “Know all the parts. Be a jack of all trades and be great at what you do.”
There is one other thing to remember, he said: “the importance of a deadline.”
Sci High CEO Dr. Monique Cola congratulated Celestine, Smallwood and the crew for their success and noted that the school also took home the Grand Prize at Film Prize Junior in 2019.
“We are so proud of our talented students in our Career and Technical Education Department and their continued success,” she said.
Open to all middle and high schools students from across Louisiana, the Film Prize Junior competition is a way for young people to learn the creative and collaborative craft of narrative storytelling. The process also instills lessons of teamwork, organization and communication.
Celestine said he is grateful for the opportunity and proud of his team’s effort.
“Attending Film Prize Junior was such a great experience,” said Celestine. “This was an extremely tough competition, and we were proud to take home the trophy.