12-year-old's Holocaust-themed film among this year's Pens to Lens shorts

12-year-old's Holocaust-themed film among this year's Pens to Lens shorts

CHAMPAIGN — Three generations will be in the audience to view a film based on a family member's life in an intense Pens To Lens picture.

The Champaign-Urbana Film Society, Champaign Movie Makers and Champaign-Urbana Design Organization present the program for East Central Illinois K-12 students. Children write original screenplays made into short films by local filmmakers.

The gala showings are at 2 and 6 p.m. Saturday at the Virginia Theatre.

Max Libman wrote "A Star" about a Jewish family living in Nazi Germany, based on his great-grandmother's experience.

Max, 12, who goes to Countryside School, sat down and began writing the script last December.

"I just started typing," he said.

"It's all his work. I was happy just to read it," mother Lisa Libman said.

"I was very moved to learn that he had written a script based on her life, and I was impressed that he was able to do it in such a powerful way."

The film is unlike most in Pens To Lens because it's in black and white, in a screen format from the past, and German is spoken.

Jon Lecouris is in his fourth year of directing Pens to Lens films.

"For 'A Star,' my main goal was to present the period and setting in a way that felt immersive and real," the director said.

"I wanted the audience to feel as though they were transported back in time to be a fly on the wall observing the harsh realities of a Jewish family living in Nazi Germany in the late 1930s."

It will be an intense experience for the Wittenberg/Libman family because the heroine's only daughter, Barbara Wittenberg; her two grandchildren, Lisa Libman and Steve Wittenberg; and her five great-grandchildren, Max, Sophia and Hannah Libman and Aidan and Ronen Wittenberg, will all be there at the Virginia.

Given the German language, "it felt more like arranging music than editing together conversations. (And) I immediately knew upon reading the script that I didn't want to put music in the film," Lecouris said.

Another Pens director, Andrew Gleason, grew up with a passion for watching movies, but never really considered making them "until a (digital) camera came out in the late 2000s that made it affordable for people to start making movies without needing a large budget," he said.

From there, he made films as a hobby, entered a community through Champaign Movie Makers and eventually turned movie-making into a career. He works as a video producer for University of Illinois Public Affairs, doing those promo shorts you see, among other things.

"As a director, you get a chance to help a kid that wrote a script realize their dream, see it get made and then watch it premiere at the Virginia Theatre, on one of the best and biggest screens around," he said.

"Kids also get to be involved by acting in a wide variety of roles across a number of films made every year for Pens to Lens," or on the crew, he said.

Gleason co-directed "Stuck," by Gwen Kaiser, about "a girl struggling with depression and an abusive relationship with her mother, and it follows how she navigates that difficult situation in her life," he said.

"We really loved how Gwen brought in some bold imagery for a physical manifestation of depression that lurks behind the protagonist throughout much of the film," he said.

Without spoiling it, it's about embracing an emotion.

But most of the films aren't dark, he added. Pens To Lens is "full of wonderful, hilarious, moving, creative films that are all from the minds of our incredibly talented, local K-12 writers."

Parker Evans, now 18 and headed to Parkland to study acting, has written three films as well as done some directing, and is already a veteran.

"I got involved through a film called 'Race You to Russia.' I believe it was the second year of Pens to Lens," he said.

This year, he wrote the cyber-punk film "Neo-Scum," directed by Thomas Polk. Thomas and Emily Polk have been instrumental in contributing to Pens To Lens for several years. She directed "Dusty Rusty" this year.

Evans has found directing challenging.

"There's a lot of things to keep track of, a lot of attention to detail," Evans said. Emily Polk is also the cinematographer on this one.

Catch a rising star

What: Pens to Lens gala screening.

When: 2 and 6 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Virginia Theatre, Champaign.

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Topics (3):Education, Film, People