Lights, Camera, Action at After-School

By Nicole Fogarty

Henry Street After-School student Santiago Ossa winning Best Director at the SONYC Film Festival.
Photo courtesy of Katha Cato.

Henry Street Settlement after-school students took home top prizes at the 3rd Annual SONYC Film Festival last month, where middle schoolers from all over the city screened their films to an audience of more than 500 guests.

Santiago Ossa, a student in the United Neighborhood Middle School (UNMS) Film Club operated by Henry Street, won Best Director and Best Male Actor for Teacher As Student, an original short film he wrote, starred in and directed that shows what happens when a teacher shows up for his first day and is mistakenly enrolled as a student. Click here to view the film.

Held at the SVA Theatre in Chelsea, the festival screened over 50 short films (including four from the Henry Street program) that had been submitted from film clubs in SONYC after-school programs across the five boroughs. All films were recognized during the awards ceremony, where winners received prizes like cameras, computers and drones to help further develop their skills.

SONYC (School’s Out New York City) is an after-school model through COMPASS NYC in which programs are structured like clubs, and middle school students can choose how they want to spend their time.

The awards ceremony was an afternoon to remember with food, prizes and a swanky red carpet, but for the film club’s director Katha Cato and the rest of the UNMS students, it had been an entire school year in the making. Cato is a former Director of After-School and Camp Services at Henry Street. In addition to her work with the SONYC program at UNMS and other schools, she also runs the Queens World Film Festival and chipAway Productions  with her husband, Don.

The film club is open to all students in Henry Street’s SONYC after-school program at UNMS. Activities include developing ideas for short films, storyboarding, writing treatments and screenplays, practice shooting, learning equipment, working on experimental films, and more.

Cato explained that students in the program develop much more than film skills. “We see them learn discipline. For instance, quiet on the set means quiet on the set, no matter what. We also don’t let anyone buy any props or costumes—they have to make them all, helping them develop creatively.”

The hard work certainly paid off—this was the first time in the club’s history that a Henry Street film won in a major category. While Santiago wasn’t on hand to accept his award (he had moved back to his native Chile mid-year), Cato attended the festival in his place, along with other Henry Street youth.

“It was an incredible eye opener for these kids. They got to meet other young filmmakers from all over the city just like them, with the same interests and senses of humor. They know they’re not alone.”

View more photos from the Festival  |  View all winning films