Show and tell

A filmmaker relives the hysterics of high school in a serialized short film she's screening online.

Published February 25, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

Filmmaker Maya Churi graduated from high school 10 years ago, but the experience is still fresh in her mind. Tuesday, she took her high school memories online, in a serialized short film called "Letters From Homeroom." The result -- an interactive narrative based on the fictional notes passed between two teenage girls -- is a sweet glimpse into high school life.

"We thought it would be a great way to open a dialogue about all these funny little dramas that happen in high school," explains Churi. "In high school they seem like such big things, but in retrospect they are not."

Churi -- a budding filmmaker who works as an editor at IndieWire -- conceived "Letters From Homeroom" when she rediscovered the passed notes of her own youth. "I was cleaning out my attic and found this huge bag of letters that I had written to friends in high school. I read them and decided I had to do this -- they are such intimate portraits into all of our lives."

The resulting script was a fictionalized account of her own high school experiences: a 24-minute film about the friendship between "Alix" and "Claire," and the traumatic fallout from their dating dramas. The young actors were culled from her own former high school and filmed on campus over the course of a week.

Rather than submitting her film to film festivals or one of the increasingly popular online film portals, such as Atom Films, Churi decided to turn the project into an entire Web site. She broke down the film into 17 mini-episodes; visitors can either watch short video snippets, download audio only or read the notes as text instead. Each film character has his or her own "locker" and the two main characters have their own Web sites; teens who watch the film can also participate in bulletin boards discussing the events in the movie.

"I realized that teenagers don't go to film festivals," explains Churi. "You can stream short films now on film sites, but the subject matter lends itself to its own entity -- it's not just sitting down and watching these two girls write back and forth, but interacting in their dialogue."

Churi hopes to keep the film up as an ongoing project; she'll soon be uploading footage featuring other characters in the film, and plans to maintain the fictional diaries of Claire and Alix over the next months. Churi has received a grant from the Creative Capital Foundation, a new group that promotes new media and film and is housed in part by the Andy Warhol Foundation. To promote her film, she plans to take a tour of high schools in New York and Philadelphia and meet with other students. She is hoping to solicit teens to submit their own notes and diaries, to be turned into online short films.

"I'd love to keep the dialogue going," she laughs, pondering a teen-letter portal that could catalog high school hysterics: Silly as the notes may seem to adults, they mean the world to teenagers. "There's just so much fun information in those letters."

By Janelle Brown

Janelle Brown is a contributing writer for Salon.

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