- ABOUT US
At the Oklahoma Arts Institute, young Oklahoma filmmakers discover that they are not alone.
By BLAIR WALTMAN
Published January/February 2012
Crystal Kayiza doesn’t have a single favorite movie.
“I have so many favorites,” she says. “I could go on and on. I remember finishing Children of Men and thinking, ‘I want to make films.’”
The Jenks native is one of a groundswell of Oklahoma youths for whom movies aren’t just an evening out but a calling.
But Kayiza, like other young Okies, was stuck with a riddle: How to get on the other side of the silver screen? Filmmaking isn’t a required high school credit, and the movies’ main meccas, New York and Los Angeles, are equally distant from Oklahoma, physically and metaphorically. As a result, young Oklahoma cinephiles can feel isolated from like-minded lovers of film and have no way to gain the technical knowledge needed to join a film crew.
That’s where the Oklahoma Arts Institute at Quartz Mountain comes in.
Founded in 1977 to provide enhanced arts education for the state’s youth, the institute’s initial three-day program launched with coursework in ballet, poetry, mime, orchestra, and screenprinting at Camp Egan in Tahlequah. It was such a success that the following year, it was expanded to two full weeks and permanently relocated to Quartz Mountain State Park near Lone Wolf. Film and video studies became part of the roster in 2000.
“In terms of an art form, film is one most people are familiar with,” says OAI president and CEO Julie Cohen of the newest discipline. “If we want our state to have a relevant arts culture in the future, film is a big part of that.”
To apply, high school students, including graduating seniors, can submit a five-minute film or an original screenplay, which is then reviewed by a panel of judges.
“Our panel are people across the state involved in film, and they all agreed the greatest skill to have is a storytelling ability, whether you’re doing narrative or documentary,” Cohen says. “Some of these kids have come in not knowing anything about film, and they gain a lot of technical knowledge.”
After an audition in the spring that includes an interview with the panel, sixteen students are chosen for a two-week crash course in film the following summer. Tuition is covered primarily by donations and matching grants from the Oklahoma State Department of Education, making it possible for students to attend regardless of their financial situation. Once there, professionals-turned-instructors—like renowned fashion photographer and documentarian Troy Word—put pupils through their cinematic paces.
Curriculum varies with the instructor. In 2011, Word, along with Oklahoma filmmakers Beau Leland and Alan Novey, divided the students into what Word calls “four mini film companies.” Each worked on a narrative video while collaborating on class-wide projects including a live shoot with OAI’s modern dance students.
“I feel like they probably got a year’s worth of film school in two weeks,” says Word. “There’s no reason these kids can’t make the next Blair Witch movie.”
Indeed, some of the students’ work has already seen screen time. Projects fresh out of Quartz Mountain have been presented at venues like the deadCENTER Film Festival, the Tulsa International Film Festival, and the Trail Dance Film Festival, where OAI students Parke Metzer, Kristella Sallee, Dane Schoelen, and Bunee Tomlinson won the “Best High School Film” award for their movie Highway 9.
In addition to technical expertise and festival merits, what the students take home is a sense of community. Word, a Bartlesville native and OAI alumnus himself, was no exception.
“It was easy to feel like you were not in the main flow of the worlds of art and fashion, but OAI was this magical thing where you meet all these famous people,” he says. “I think that’s why it’s important—it is very possible to feel like you’re the only one.”
While Kayiza is grateful for the technical knowledge she gained from OAI, the lesson that has made the greatest impact was that her cinematic island wasn’t as deserted as she thought.
“Until I went to OAI, I felt like I was by myself,” Kayiza says.
After three years as a student at OAI, she now attends film school at Ithaca College in New York and is weighing her options for the future.
“I knew I wanted to do films,” she says. “But over the summer, I reenergized my love for them.”
Get There: The 2012 Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute session is June 9-24. Oklahoma Arts Institute, 2600 Van Buren, Suite 2606 in Norman. (405) 321-9000 or oaiquartz.org.