Local Students Impress at D.C. Independent Film Forum

“Black Care” by John Monaco, sophomore at Duke Ellington School of the Arts, in Washington, D.C. and graduate of the Tisch Future Filmmakers Workshop at New York University (Screenshot via https://filmfreeway.com/BlackCare427)

Last month, the 25th annual D.C. Independent Film Forum (DCIFF) showcased local talent and topics relevant to the DMV—and local high school students got in on the action, too.

Three DMV teens led a free high school film competition with student filmmaker submissions; workshops with an editor, sound engineer, cinematographer and producer; and meet-and-greets with representatives from college film programs including American University and Howard University, in Washington, D.C.

Two of the student leaders are from Duke Ellington School of the Arts, in D.C.—sophomore John Monaco and junior Maddy Waldman—and the other, Sa’kiya Nicholas, is a senior at Oxon Hill High School, in Oxon Hill, Maryland.

For students with aspirations in the film industry and a passion for the art, this was a dream.

Seventeen student films out of 148 submitted from across the United States and internationally were selected to be judged in the competition by panel of three local judges.
Among the fims were two from local students—“The Window” from Abigail Chesman, a junior at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, and Monaco’s “Black Care.”

Chesman’s story “follows Auggie, a 17-year-old boy, as he reflects on the best summer of his life, spent with the love of his life” and Monaco’s explores life and meaning, according to the high school film competition’s webpage (dciff-indie.org/2024-high-school).

Chesman won runner-up for her film—a product of her first time filmmaking during
a summer program. Monaco’s film stood out for its local content—featuring Smitty’s Barber Shop, of Falls Church, Virginia.

Each of the contestants were judged by an expert panel: D.C.-based Emmy Award winning filmmaker and lead teacher for DCIFF’s Teen Intensive Summer Filmmaking Program, Spencer Buttig; Virginia-based fiction film director and writer Shelton Johnson; and Junhyeok Kim, last year’s top award winner in the high school competition, now studying film at New York University.


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