Wednesday, February 3, 2010

High School Student Promotes Film Festival Between Class and Practice

By Alysa Obert
Gordon College News Service
February 3, 2010
(This article appeared in the February 12 edition of The Salem News.)

Jessica Doherty, ’11, of Marblehead High competes on the swim team, tennis team, helps out with the recycling club, made the honor roll, and started her film career— all before her 17th birthday.

“It’s important for people my age to get out there and actually do something that they’re interested in,” said Doherty, who is also volunteering at this year’s Salem Film Festival taking place February 26th—March 4th .


Chris Gilbert, director of the Festival’s volunteers, said Doherty stood out when he gathered volunteers at CinemaSalem last week. “She was inspiring,” said Gilbert. “She was the youngest person in the room and yet the most confident and the most excited.”

But Doherty has always had a passion for the cinema. “Growing up I felt like everyone had that one thing, you know, like being good at soccer,” she said. “I never had that with anything but film.”

It might be in her blood. Her aunt and uncle were the executive producers of Enlighten Up, a documentary about a man and his journey with yoga. Although the documentary will not be shown at this year’s screenings, it did spark Doherty’s interest in a festival that focused solely on documentaries.

So when her mom made her aware of the volunteer opportunity, Doherty wasted no time applying for the position. “I figured if it was really awkward, I’d just call my mom to pick me up,” she said.

Instead, the experience has been both a confirmation of her interest and has inspired her to share it with others. She started a film class with the help of English teacher Connor Ryan. Ryan told Doherty he would take the class to the film fest if she took care of the details.

 “The best way to spread the word,” said Doherty, “is to get people in the door. Once they’re in they’ll want to come back.” Doherty’s confidence in the documentaries lies not only in the variety but in the quality of the films.
“There’s not one that I would say is boring. There’s Brazilian women’s wrestling, a sequel to a film that did really well two years ago, and four submissions from the famous Les Blank,” said Doherty. “This is also the first film festival where Blank and his son are showing films at the same place which is totally great.”

With 34 films total, the 2010 Film Fest is the largest in New England. Also unique to this year’s festival are the directors, many of whom are attending and will be speaking about their films before and after the viewing.
In the pre-festival stage, volunteers are assigned a film to promote. They tell their friends, families, and anyone who will take a flyer. Doherty chose to promote Superman of Malegaon, which is about filmmaking in India, but as for the details, “you’ll just have to come and watch,” she said.

With all this passion for film, she still manages to give her other interests the attention they need. “My primary interest is helping others,” she said. In between school and sports commitments, Doherty also volunteers at Best Buddies, an international organization that connects kids who have special needs to students in order to create lasting relationships.

Her desire to help others is what sparked her interest in promoting the festival. “It’s such a great thing that they are doing here,” she said.  “Not everyone is going to like every film. But every film teaches something important.”
Doherty said viewers should come expecting to be surprised. “Most people don’t watch documentaries,” said Doherty. “They will be surprised at how interesting they can be.”

As to her dreams for her film future, Doherty plans to start with film school. “But who knows?” she said. “My philosophy is: take as many chances as I can because no one knows what’s going to happen tomorrow. Today’s the best you’re gonna get.”

The Salem Film Fest begins Feb 26th and runs through March 4th. For more information, visit their Web site.

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