Three student films premiere at the HER Film Camp 2022 screening |

Three student films premiere at the HER Film Camp 2022 screening

The HER Film Camp from YouthPower365 premiered three new films at the Riverwalk Theater on Tuesday

HER Film Camp participants and camp founder Meredith Kirkman pose on the red carpet on the night of the premiere.
Brian Maloney/Courtesy of YouthPower365

YouthPower365 put middle school students on the big screen at the 2022 premiere of the HER Film Camp productions, a filmmaking experience designed for young girls and gender non-conforming youth in the Vail Valley. 

On Nov. 15, student filmmakers and their families, friends and fans munched on popcorn while taking in three new films at the Riverwalk Theater, followed by a panel discussion with the middle-school-aged actors and producers that brought them to life this summer.

Meredith Kirkman founded HER Film Camp in collaboration with YouthPower365’s Girl PowHER program in 2020 as a way to empower women and gender non-conforming students to tell stories and make strong personal connections through film production. Each summer, students learn how to pitch, write, act and record a short film, and then share the finished product with the community.

Now in its third year, YouthPower365 incorporated HER Film Camp into its existing summer program for middle school students, a week-long experience called “Camp of Legends” that caters to incoming sixth through eighth graders. In the past, HER Film Camp has been a separate experience that students can choose to sign up for, but Kirkman says the new model enabled greater exposure to the program and doubled the number of students involved in the filmmaking process. 

“One of our main goals early on was to always try to get as many people involved and give this to as many people as we can,” Kirkman said. “I think that we’ll find a mix of bringing the enrichment to them and sparking the interest and then diving deeper.”

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54 students participated in the program over the course of two one-week camp sessions. Together, they created one original film and recreated scenes from two existing productions, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and “Stranger Things.” The recreation scenes enabled students to learn the ins and outs of the filmmaking process within the program’s tight time constraint, while the original film challenged them to bring their own ideas to life.

Three new films, including one original short film, premiered on the big screen at the Riverwalk Theater.
Chris Kendig/Courtesy of YouthPower365

Students could try out as actors and extras performing in front of the camera or work behind the lens as camera people, boom holders, lighting directors and many other critical roles that go into a film. They also designed their own costumes and were encouraged to improvise lines to fuel the story.

“I was trying to focus on getting everyone enthusiastic and inspired in their own way, and luckily there are a lot of roles on a production set,” Kirkman said. “When someone expresses their interest, we empower them and they kind of become leaders in that, and then by the end they get a really good feel for it.”

Friendship and empowerment

The students’ enthusiasm for their individual roles was clearly on display during the panel discussion that followed the screening. Three of the four panelists worked on the original film “Hot Lunch,” the story of three girls who sneak into school to break a haunted curse in the cafeteria that is making all of the food taste bad.

Lead actors Naomi Martinez-Torres and Ana Duran both had not acted before the camp, but stepped up to be in front of the camera and were chosen by their producer, Jayden Dillon, to star in the film. 

While Kirkman helps to guide the filmmaking process, the students make most of the decisions around the direction of the film and take ownership of the project from start to finish. Beyond learning the technical skills involved in film production, HER Film Camp is intended to teach students to support each other in a collaborative environment.

“I remember the first day we would look around and we wouldn’t completely share our ideas because it was really weird being in front of all these people that we hadn’t known, and closer to the end we were all having fun and we were chatting and when one of us had a problem we’d walk over and help each other,” Dillon said. 

In the short span of a week, the filmmaking team went from not knowing anyone in the group to learning and empowering each other’s strengths, all while having fun and making new friends.

Naomi Martinez-Torres, one of the lead actors in “Hot Lunch,” shares her experience during the post-screening panel discussion.
Brian Maloney/Courtesy of YouthPower365

“What I learned about filmmaking is that you don’t really need to be friends to have a special bond,” Martinez-Torres said. “With Jaden — we’re friends now — but just using her ideas and making her ideas come to life, we didn’t really know each other but we made that bond.”

All of the filmmakers agreed that the hardest part was trying not to laugh while getting the shots, but that the dedication to the finished product helped the group stay focused.

“You need to keep trying,” Duran said. “It doesn’t matter if you do it 50 times and you keep laughing, you just try your best and do it. If they’re making faces, you know that you need to get the movie done and that it’s important to the others and the whole movie.”

The fourth panelist was Andrea Garza, who starred in the camp’s first-ever film, “Elena” in 2020 at the age of 10. Now 12, Garza said that she is considering pursuing acting as a career, a passion that she discovered through exposure to the film camp. 

“I learned to never give up,” Garza said. “At first I didn’t really want to go because I didn’t know anybody, but after getting to know everyone better it made me want to go more, and I also learned that this is maybe what I actually want to do.”

Each group of filmmakers has come away from the experience with new friends, new skills and a final project that can forever be shared with the world, and Kirkman hopes to continue growing the reach of the program with YouthPower365 in coming years.

“I’m so interested, intrigued, and excited to see where this is going to bring us, because it’s boundless,” Kirkman said. “I can’t wait to touch more lives and tell more stories.”

All of the films produced will be shared on the HER Film Camp YouTube channel.

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