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Sunshine Coast student filmmakers spin web of thrills, chills

A film festival fuelled by students from School District 46’s ProjectSPIDER distance learning program presented strikingly original cinematic visions during an exclusive screening event on June 21.
Directors, writers and actors gathered at the Heritage Playhouse in Gibsons to view over a dozen locally-produced films.

A film festival fuelled by students from School District 46’s ProjectSPIDER distance learning program presented strikingly original cinematic visions during an exclusive screening event on June 21. 

Pupils in Grades 7 through 9 mingled with invited guests at the Heritage Playhouse in Gibsons during the world premiere of 13 original movie shorts, ranging from the experimental (an airliner disaster flick rendered with plastic construction bricks) to the existential (a hand-animated meditation by Miyo Shinagawa on the art of baking apple pie). 

“It’s unlike anything else I’ve done,” said ProjectSPIDER teacher Sean Morton, who founded the festival two years ago. “I don’t grade them. I just make them work really, really hard on every stage.” 

ProjectSPIDER supplements home and community-based learning with a combination of teacher, local expert, and peer-led sessions. 

Participants composed and submitted scripts, then shaped revisions after receiving feedback from Morton. The teenaged directors prepared graphic storyboards and shot lists. Peers and adults were recruited for shoots, many on location in the forests and waters of the Sunshine Coast. Finally, memory cards and hard drives were filled to capacity during the digital editing process. 

“There’s a lot of absurdity,” added Morton. “They just engage so fully with it. I don’t see many movies like this, where you never really know what’s going to happen.” 

Slapstick comedy dominated the selections, as in Bella Anthony’s Knuckleheads in the Kitchen, a send-up of televised cooking instruction that culminated in a flaming casserole dish, and Duel of the Citrus Knights, an epic of kitchen-based sibling rivalry. The dramatic thriller Aguaman 3 (which includes chases through scrubby terrain and a storyline spanning five decades) is the latest installment in a cinematic universe conceived at the inaugural film festival in 2022. 

“I definitely learned patience,” said 14-year-old Aguaman director Matthias Chavez-Morgan, “and learning to work with people who are spewing their ideas out as we were recording. I tried to give people more freedom by giving them an idea, and letting them improvise.” 

Each submission showed dexterity with the language of film, and respect for genre-specific conventions. Peter Reznick’s The Art of Remembering was a suspenseful study in storytelling through closeups, depicting a frantic household search for a slender volume by ballerina Ailsa MacIntyre. The desaturated colour palette of Cedar Neufeld’s Ghousts and Monsters (a horror film anchored by an eerie doll) increased its quotient of foreboding. 

“I wanted to be able to film and be the person acting in it and do everything so I could make it perfect,” explained Neufeld, 14. “I learned how to edit and frame shots better. Now I know I can do something like that.” 

Father and son Rowdy and Rowan Rody were united in a fast-paced action saga, Jet Ventro: Spy Skills. A dastardly villain (portrayed by professional filmmaker Jon Izen) unleashes a weapon that transforms adults into younger versions of themselves. 

“I picked up some acting skills, and patience skills too,” said Sky Hershler, 11, who played one of the movie’s scheming henchmen. 

Jet Ventro’s director, Rowan Rody, 15, is a three-time participant in the Spider festival. “Pretty much everything about my movies has gotten much better,” he reflected after the inaugural screening. “It was really cool. I was worried people weren’t going to like it, but they laughed at all the parts I thought they might not. That really made me feel good.” 

More information about ProjectSPIDER and its initiatives is available online at