Around Town: Screening will feature movies made by local students

FILM STUDIES: Students in the Burton Street Community Center after-school program review video that they shot for a movie about gymnastics. Photo courtesy of Lisa Smith

Longtime educator Lisa Smith teaches math, science, history and more to local elementary and middle school students. But she admits none of those subjects gets the kids quite as excited as moviemaking.

“It’s by far the most chaotic thing I teach,” she explains with a laugh. “But it’s one of the most productive in terms of the deeper learning that comes from collaboration and media usage. Most of the learning is pretty engaging.”

Smith will screen about 10 student-made movies at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 11, at Asheville Community Theatre. The free event will include two 30-minute blocks of animated and live-action films as well as a trailer for The Other Side of Learning, a documentary she is making.

One block will feature movies made by home-schooled students that Smith teaches through a learning pod. The other will include films by students in the after-school program at Burton Street Community Center. At the end of each block, the filmmakers will be honored with prizes in an Academy Award-style ceremony, says Smith, who has been teaching moviemaking to children in Asheville since 2008.

“They’re super creative, and it’s a great outlet for the students,” she says

The subjects of the movies include African folk tales, gymnastics and drawing. One group of students created a cops-and-robbers caper, and another made a horror movie, though Smith promises it will be appropriate for all ages.

A veteran educator, Smith set up the learning pod in her home in collaboration with parents during COVID restrictions in 2020. Now in its third year, the pod will be the subject of The Other Side of Learning, which Smith is making with cinematographer Mo Baza.

“While a lot of home-school kids do take year-end tests, we have more of a presentation at the end,” she says. “So, the movie is going to film the last week of school as we get ready in every class for this presentation on our last day.”

Smith hopes the documentary will spark conversations about educational topics like project-centered learning, media literacy and collaboration. “It’s not a secret that our school systems and our younger kids are really challenged. As an educator, I’m concerned about what that means for our culture 20 years down the road. I think we have to change.”

Admission to the screening is free, but donations to support the documentary will be accepted. Asheville Community Theatre is at 35 E. Walnut St. For more information, go to

Dress for success

For Marsha van Rijssen, it all started with a $1 thrift-store prom dress.

After buying the red dress last year, the Asheville woman hand-washed it and made a few repairs. Then she began to wonder how many similar dresses end up in landfills or in the back of closets.

Thus was born the Prom Dress Exchange.

“I set out to procure as many dresses as possible,” she explains. “I started a dress drive at my daughter’s high school, A.C. Reynolds. I put up flyers at my bank, vet’s office, any business that would help. The support was overwhelming.”

In the end, van Rijssen and a team of fellow volunteers were able to make more than 500 prom dresses available for free to local high school students.

The Prom Dress Exchange returns this year from noon-6 p.m. Friday, March 10, and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, March 11, at Groce United Methodist Church. Once again, more than 500 free dresses are available. Volunteers will be on hand to make alterations on the spot.

“As a child of a single parent, I remember the financial stress of my mother buying my prom dress,” van Rijssen says. “To help other families relieve that pressure in a fun environment is an amazing way to help my community.”

Additionally, she says, she was motivated by the idea of reducing waste through the reuse of the dresses.

But the project moved beyond just financial and environmental concerns for van Rijssen when she saw the reactions of the students who picked out dresses last year.

“Witnessing these young women see how beautiful they looked and felt became such a magical experience,” she explains. “Positive body affirmation and embracing you for you — both inside and out — is really what this is all about.”

Groce United Methodist Church is at 954 Tunnel Road.

Radio days

Low-watt pirate radio station Free Radio Asheville, which brought an electric mix of music and liberal-minded political commentary to the area from 1998 to 2006, is coming to the silver screen.

Free the Airwaves was written and directed by Cory Boughton, who hosted the station’s weekly “Lokhan & Luwingo Show” with his brother Brad Boughton from 2001-06. The Boughtons play the main characters in the film, which follows their journey into Asheville’s underground scene.

The movie will premiere at Asheville Pizza and Brewing Co. at 8 p.m. Friday, March 10, and Saturday, March 11.

“I had been a part of Free Radio Asheville for years, and the story was one that I was always told needed to be made into a film,” Corey Boughton says. “Rich and layered, it had characters like only Asheville could produce. So, when I was searching for content for my first feature film, I realized that this story was the one.”

He wrote the script in 2013 when he was living in New York. Production began in summer 2020 after Boughton moved back to Asheville and was looking for something to do during COVID-19 restrictions.

Several people play younger versions of themselves in the movie, while other roles are filled by local and outside actors. The movie features music from more than 70 artists, including local bands The Southern Lights, East Coast Dirt and Sophisticated Chimps.

Radio Free Asheville operated on several channels over its history, including 107.5 FM.

“They were hunted by the FCC and forced off the air several times, always popping up again in a new location within 24 hours,” Boughton says.

Asheville Pizza and Brewing Co. is at 675 Merrimon Ave. For more information, go to To see the movie trailer, visit

On the fringe

The 21st Asheville Fringe Arts Festival will be Sunday, March 19-Sunday, March 26, at various locations. The festival will include more than 50 performances, including dance, theater, puppetry, music and film.

In addition to its regular venues, Fringe is taking over Foundy Street in the River Arts District, with events at Art Garden, Tyger Tyger Gallery, the Marquee, the Grail Moviehouse, House of Kismet and the Cloud Room at the Wedge.

Among highlights of the festival, Cooper Bates will perform “Blacked Out,” part two of his 2020 autobiographical one-man show “Black When I was a Boy;” Asheville’s The Cardboard Sea theater company will present radio serial “Speckles, the Sinister Pirate” as a free, self-guided audio tour around Foundy Street; and musical duo A Glassy Ruckus will perform work inspired by Yiddish folk tales about animals and interspecies relationships.

In addition, Fringe film night returns with two programs of short films from Asheville and all over the world.

For more information or to buy tickets, go to

All about that brass

The Blue Ridge Symphonic Brass will present a free concert at Cathedral of All Souls Episcopal Church at 4 p.m. Sunday, March 12.

Led by conductor Jamie Hafner, the ensemble will present styles ranging from baroque to popular to contemporary, including an antiphonal brass choir selection by Italian composer Giovanni Gabrieli.

Cathedral of All Souls is at 9 Swan St. in Biltmore Village. For more information, go to

Queer Studies Conference

UNC Asheville will host its biennial Queer Studies Conference Friday, March 24-Sunday, March 26. The event will bring scholars, artists and activists together for workshops and presentations on the theme “Blooming: Metamorphoses and Seasons of Queerness.”

Keynote speakers will be Alexis Pauline Gumbs, recipient of the 2022 Whiting Award in Nonfiction, and Andie Morgenlander, co-founder of the Justice Film Collective.

The free conference is open to the public, with a suggested donation of $20-$60. Registration is required. For more information or to register, visit



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About Justin McGuire
Justin McGuire is a UNC Chapel Hill graduate with more than 30 years of experience as a writer and editor. His work has appeared in The Sporting News, the (Rock Hill, SC) Herald and various other publications. Follow me @jmcguireMLB

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