"There are a lot of people in your life you might pass by, and there are some incredible experiences you might miss out on if you don't take advantage of them," said Signal Mountain High School student Carig Sanders of his experience filming the documentary "Stacey."
He and six other SMHS students have been following and filming the life of SMHS senior Stacey Rice, who is dealing with autism. The film premieres at Walker Pavilion in Coolidge Park Thursday, May 9 at 7 p.m. A second screening is being held in the SMHS theater Friday, May 10 at 7 p.m.
"Not only is 'Stacey' a great example of what a group of high school students can do with media art, but it is also a beautiful, moving portrait of a person living with autism and what his life and disability mean to others," said Neely Hyde, the filmmaker who serves as the group's sponsor as part of the Association for Visual Arts' Reel Stories Documentary Program.
Each year, AVA selects a different local high school to participate in the program. Hyde, in her third year serving as the visiting artist in the program, said students are selected by the school based on interest and willingness to commit two afternoons to the project per week.
The SMHS students who worked on the project from October until last week are Sanders, Abigail Hanson, Taylor Lapinski, Natalie Palmer, Roman Hughes, Megan Sloan and Jessica Jack.
"Autism is just one part of the story; there's definitely a lot more to say," said Sanders. "I learned that you can't just let one disadvantage tell everything about you, and disabilities aren't necessarily the defining characteristic of a person."
The documentary was conceptualized, filmed and edited entirely by the students, said Hyde, who provided guidance such as how to structure the film.
"In general, most kids have never had experience in video making," she said, adding that teaching students to see the entire picture laid out before them is often the hardest part of the process. "They've got a voice, and it's wonderful to be able to put tools in their hands to say something."
The students got the idea for the film from their art teacher, whom Sanders said is quite fond of Rice.
"We followed him around and tried to cover all aspects of his life," said Sanders of Rice.
The parts they filmed at Rice's home and church were the most telling about his life, said Sanders.
Rice and his siblings were adopted by their grandparents, and Sanders said the impact Rice has had on their lives was what he found most stirring about the film.
"I think he's changed their lives considerably just by being present in it," he said of Rice's grandparents, who taught Rice to speak and interact with them.
Sanders said one of the main messages he hopes the audience will take away from the film is how perseverance can carry one through any of life's obstacles. Another is to take advantage of all the opportunities presented to you, he said.
"I'm almost certain if this documentary project had never happened my interaction with Stacey would have been minimal," said Sanders. "To have missed an opportunity like that would have been a shame."
The film also includes original music by the band Chasing Wilder, comprised of SMHS students Wil Markham, Noelle Alexander, Sam Anderson and Emerson Miller.