It's "lights, camera, action" time at Vista de las Cruces School in Gaviota, as young filmmakers learn to make their own movies. | Credit: Cynthia Carbone Ward

It’s Thursday afternoon, and a dozen students in the 5th, 6th, and 7th grades have gathered in the gym of Vista de las Cruces School to make movies. They are part of the Youth Cinema Project, a program supported by the Latino Film Institute, and they have been studying cinematography and script writing under the guidance of two visiting mentors, Kyle and Ashley. The enthusiasm is palpable. This is not an after-school program — it’s a multi-disciplinary, 90-minute class that meets twice a week and encompasses all aspects of the story development and writing process, then continues into staging, filming, and production.  

Kyle Dent, one of the Youth Cinema Project’s visiting mentors. | Photo: Cynthia Carbone Ward

The room is abuzz with activity. One of the students on the film crew is Niley McGibben, who explains to me that the making of a film involves numerous behind-the-scenes roles such as gaffer, location manager, and her job, production designer. The students have learned how to create compelling stories that will keep viewers hooked, and how to write proposals and pitch their scripts, just as they would in the real world. They recently voted on the two scripts they want to turn into movies: Lost, about a hike that goes awry due to carelessness, and Slide Away, involving a bossy girl whose brother slides into another dimension. Located at the edge of a state park with mountains, creeks, and chaparral at its doorway, the little Gaviota school is a perfect setting for filming outdoor adventure tales. Now, dialog is being rehearsed, cameras wheeled around, and everyone seems engaged. “Students learn about camera angles and types of shots,” says Principal-Superintendent Bree Valla. “Then they take what they’ve learned outside and apply it.” 

Moviemaking behind the scenes at Vista de las Cruces School in Gaviota. | Photo: Cynthia Carbone Ward

Once there is actual film footage, students transition to learning about the editing process. The culminating event will be a movie screening in June at the Latino Youth Film Festival in Los Angeles, held in Hollywood’s legendary Chinese Theater. (For a peek at last year’s festival, click here.) It’s a memorable experience. “Students are able to learn about the arts in a hands-on way, and also fine-tune their writing, speaking, and listening skills,” says Valla. “But when they get to see their final product shown in an actual movie theater, that’s magical!” 

It’s one of many magical aspects of Vista de las Cruces. The single school in Gaviota’s Vista Del Mar Union School District, it offers classes from TK to 7th grade, and will add 8th grade in 2023-24. With a student-teacher ratio of 7:1, students enjoy individualized learning opportunities and vibrant extracurricular activities such as gardening, art, theater, and sports. Vista is currently open for enrollment to students who are interested in a personalized learning experience and live within or outside of the district’s boundaries. For more information, contact the school office at (805) 686-1880.


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