Hawk Productions wins awards for short films

BEACON FALLS — Woodland’s growing Hawk Productions continued to spread its wings as the group won a number of awards for two short films.

The group, which operates in Ralph Riello’s digital media production courses, earned honors at the Connecticut Student Film Festival and the Connecticut Student Innovation Expo held earlier this year.

At the Connecticut Student Film Festival, Woodland won the People’s Choice Award for their short film, “Checkmate,” a short drama entered in the 84-Hour Film Challenge. The challenge required films to be produced in fewer than four days.

The short was produced by Ryan Frechette, along with a handful of other students, and placed second in the challenge category but was voted the most popular film at the festival.

“Checkmate” follows a young girl trying to figure out a series of murders before the killer tracks her down.

“That was a really cool opportunity for the kids,” Riello said of the film festival, which was held at Waterbury’s Palace Theater. “They really put on a great event and it had a big-time feel to it.”

Woodland also took second place at the Connecticut Student Innovation Expo’s Digital Media 3 Challenge for the short documentary, “Accessibility,” which followed Woodland senior Nick Oliveira, who has cerebral palsy but was a four-year manager of the boys soccer and baseball teams.

“Nick volunteered to share his story,” Riello said. “That was extremely selfless of him to do that for us.”

Students from both sections of the course produced short documentaries, created accompanying web content, and constructed a trade show booth to showcase their projects at Hartford’s XL Center.

Four students also earned individual awards for their efforts at the trade show. Jake Hawes and Chelsi Carbajal won team player awards while Oliveira and Dan Johnson took team leader awards.

Twenty-three Woodland students in all participated in the projects, while over 2,000 students in the state took part in the multi-faceted exposition. Woodland is one of just 11 schools in Connecticut that has a Digital Media 3 program.

“Our DM3 and journalism programs are two weapons we have to help develop our students’ communication skills,” Riello said. “That’s part of why I think our school is so good.”

Riello said he provides instructions and help to students when they plan, shoot, and edit their films, but he lets them do all the work.

“I do not touch the equipment and I do not push buttons to edit,” Riello said. “I give them tips and tricks and I let them do it all. You learn more from failures, not successes.”

And if the awards are any indication, that philosophy and the growing program is working.

“[Woodland teacher] Paul Geary said after watching our entries in the competition, ‘We’re so much further ahead of everyone else,’” Riello said. “That’s because our school has a commitment to do these things.”