Filmmaking classes empower area youth

FRAMING THE FUTURE: Youths in the weekly Burton Street After School Movie Making class film a scene. Photo by Lisa Smith

From our televisions, phones and computers to the pumps at gas stations, moving images are all around us. But despite this saturation, few people take the time to truly understand filmmaking — a format that so thoroughly informs our lives.

“[Educators] teach kids to read and write from kindergarten on,” says Charlotte Taylor, founder of Fierce Flix, a social justice film camp for trans, nonbinary and female youths ages 8-16. “But [film], a format that they likely get a significant amount of their information from — and through which they are communicating much of their daily lives — they’re never taught to use. [They’re] just sort of expected to figure it out.”

Taylor, who uses they/them pronouns, is doing their part to change that narrative, as are others in Western North Carolina, including independent teacher Lisa Smith and Asheville School of Film’s Brad Hoover. Furthermore, their distinct offerings seek to empower young people and potentially serve as a springboard to a career in the film industry.

Learning the ropes

All three filmmakers’ passions for youth education stem from their own formative moviemaking experiences as teenagers. While Smith and Hoover learned about the process by working with peers, Taylor started making films in middle school after enrolling in a video class that was offered as an elective. They then continued making music videos, documentaries and short films throughout grade school.

“Especially in high school, filmmaking felt like the first time I was really able to communicate something in me that I didn’t have words for,” Taylor says. “It was a way to play and be creative and push boundaries — and I loved it. It fit my visual brain in ways I didn’t even know I had been missing until I found it.”

BEHIND THE SCENES: Fierce Flix campers work on their final project. Photo courtesy of Fierce Flix

Fierce Flix’s summer campers make music videos for local bands. At the end of camp, a public screening is held. Along with family and friends, community members and the featured bands attend the premiere.

“Most of what we do in terms of guidance is to encourage [kids’] creativity, to ask questions — ‘How do you have a snake go down the hall? How are the main characters going to disappear? What do you think this song is about? How do you show that someone is feeling that way in your video?’ — and to help them navigate the interpersonal challenges of working collaboratively with other campers they have just met,” Taylor says.

In addition to instilling filmmaking skills, Taylor’s camps also provide opportunities to explore a wider range of stories and learn about a greater variety of artists.

“The data tells us that the films we’re seeing with major national theatrical releases — or even internet distribution — are disproportionately by and about cisgendered white men,” Taylor says. “We started Fierce Flix as a way to change that — to give opportunity for trans, nonbinary, queer and femme youth to take back the screen, and also to at least be able to tell you their favorite film director of their same gender.”

Media literacy

Like Taylor, Smith also offers summer camps in live-action filmmaking, as well as stop-motion animation, plus a moviemaking class for home-schoolers on Thursday afternoons. She’s also a LEAF teaching artist, which places her in public schools from elementary through high school. Additionally, Smith leads an after-school filmmaking course at the Burton Street Community Center each Monday.

For each camp or class, the end result is always a short film. Smith organizes screenings of the finished works and shares them on her YouTube channels but feels that the critical-thinking skills learned along the way are even more important than the sense of accomplishment at the end of a project.

SIGHT AND SOUND: Asheville School of Film co-founder Brad Hoover, right, helps a summer camp student. Photo courtesy of ASoF

“Media is being used profoundly for the young kids in schools, but almost only in a consumer way and not in a creative way,” Smith says. “I’m on a big mission to increase media literacy for young people, and I think moviemaking is a really strong path to do that.”

Meanwhile, Asheville School of Film’s primary youth education focus is likewise its summer program. Kids ages 12-14 participate in a weeklong day camp that focuses on a single filmmaking activity each day, such as lighting for mood, story development, shooting coverage, camera operation basics and editing exercises. In the option for older teens, ages 15-18, campers work together to create a narrative short film from a preexisting script. Hoover is consistently impressed with the level of film knowledge this older set brings to the experience.

“Most of the kids today, having watched millions of things, are pretty savvy,” Hoover says. “They get it — it’s not like it’s rocket science or anything. It’s just a matter of sorting things out.”

Success stories

Each program has positively affected the lives of numerous young people and even encouraged a few budding artists to continue growing their skills elsewhere. Hoover’s former student Kira Bursky has won awards for her short films and music videos, and Hoover frequently hires alums whom he trusts to help with his own professional work.

Other past Asheville School of Film students have gone on to study filmmaking at the UNC School of the Arts and Western Carolina University. Hoover says he and his colleagues do their best to make sure those who pursue a career in the industry are aware of the opportunities and challenges that exist.

“We try to keep it fun, but we also let people know that this isn’t just fun and games — it’s a lot of hard work,” Hoover says. “It’s useful because sometimes it’s like, ‘OK, we can cross that one off the list [as a potential job],’ which is fine. It’s not something that everybody is cut out to do.”

The key standout for Taylor is Tünde Paule. She started as a Fierce Flix camper in 2017, became a year-round volunteer for the 2017-18 planning session, a camp mentor for the 2018 camp and continued to come back and help with camp every year until the program went on hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A film she made in high school won the All American High School Film Festival competition for best vlog video in 2019, and she is currently a senior in the filmmaking program at UNC School of the Arts,” Taylor says. “I’m really excited about the work that she’s making. She also continues to be connected to the camp and to collaborate creatively with her friends, who were also campers who became volunteers.”

Smith has similarly helped shepherd students to successful careers in the industry. But she’s just as proud of the shy young people who’ve been able to express themselves through the medium and realize their potential.

“I’ve had multiple students, especially in stop-motion animation, who may not have the power to look you in the eye. They may not have the power to speak up and raise their voice. But goodness, can they create a powerful animation,” Smith says. “It’s become a communication tool for them that they really grasped at in a way that they didn’t with writing or speaking or other communication tools. It’s really powerful to see that.”

To learn more about Fierce Flix, visit To learn more about Lisa Smith Teaches, visit To learn more about Asheville School of Film, visit


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About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

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