August: Uncut, Part 3: ConVal film about transgender issues edited 

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Monday, April 17, 2017 10:14PM
THEY’RE HERE FOR YOUConVal’s Gender-Sexuality Alliance is open to all students and is working to create a more accepting school, change stereotypes, and organize events to raise awareness about the LGBT community. The group offers a community for anyone t

ConVal senior Felix Smith recently made a short film that tells the story of two transgender students: Chris Clark and August George.

Smith said the film included interviews of Clark and George, their stories interwoven with B-roll imagery.

The film had to pass through administrators before it was submitted to the New Hampshire High School Short Film Festival. Smith said during that process, the documentary was sliced down from about eight to four minutes.

Smith said Clark’s story remained intact, but George’s story was cut from the film.

“I poured so much of my energy and like my sweat, blood, tears whatever into this one project and now it feels, I don’t know, it feels like I can’t fully express myself,” Smith said. “Now I know I can’t always say the words that I want to say.”

Interim Principal Gib West said staff and administrators edited out parts of the film because some of the statements that were made in the film did not provide a full view of the situation. He wouldn’t go into detail as to what exactly was cut from the film. The Ledger-Transcript was not able to obtain a copy of the pre or post-edited movie.

ConVal’s Photography and Videography teacher Amanda Bastoni said this year she asked all of the students in her class, either individually or in a team, to create a documentary, to be submitted to the short-film festival. She said all of those films had to be cleared by the school’s administration before they were submitted.

“We’re representing ConVal when we’re putting these out,” Bastoni said. “They could be played in theaters across the state, so we need to make sure it’s a product that we can be proud of.”

West and Bastoni both said everything from yearbook content to material printed in ConVal’s student newspaper and literary magazine called The Link is run through staff and administrators to ensure content is appropriate.

Superintendent Kim Saunders said the school uses the Hazelwood School District versus Kuhlmeiner — a 1988 landmark decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court that held public school curricular student newspapers not established for student expression to a lower level of the first amendment – as a guide to decisions on such matters.

The case determined that school administrators could exercise prior restraint of school sponsored expression, if the censorship is “reasonable related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.”

Bastoni said she is “incredibly proud” of the work that each of the students submitted.

The film festival’s website does note in its promotional material that some of the submitted films may have mature content and subject matter. It says it can reserve the right to refuse screening any film with content deemed “especially gratuitous.”

Matt Newton, director of the New Hampshire Film and Television Office and co-founder of the Festival, said gratuitous material generally refers to violence or language, not content matter. Newton said he has heard of instances where film teachers will say “yay” or “nay” to submitted content, but said that he doesn’t know of any cases of administrators intervening.

“Our belief at the festival is these are student voices and their stories,” Newton said.

He said the festival isn’t touted as a family-friendly festival, meaning that it’s open to all subject matter.

“We have students who make films that deal with everything from bullying to sexual harassment,” Newton said.

He said films aren’t judged off the content matter, rather the film’s story and its technical production.

And while it’s the festival’s belief that students should have free expression, he said, what happens at the school level is completely out of their control.

“If the school decides to reframe their film, that’s their decision,” Newton said.

Newton said they receive about 50 to 60 film submissions from students every year. They are able to whittle that number down to about 20 or 25, which are shown during a two-hour time slot.

Last year, the winner of the film festival was produced out of Bedford and dealt with people’s obsession with cell phones.

Newton said the festival has never seen a film tackling transgender issues. The piece out of ConVal will be the first.