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Newtown Arts Festival Event— ‘Youth,’ Through The Eyes Of Youth

He says his thoughts can be fleeting, but 16-year-old Max Galassi of Newtown has gathered his thoughts and created a film that focuses on youth — and the fleeting moments that must be treasured, learned from, and held closely.

The 40-minute featurette, Youth, will be premiered in The Great Room at Newtown Congregational Church, on Tuesday, September 17, at 7 pm, as part of the eight days of the 2013 Newtown Arts Festival events. The three-part film focuses on each of three teenaged characters. A newcomer to a community much like Newtown, a young man meets two very different girls. How he navigates those relationships and how the teenagers learn from an outside event beyond their control is the crux of the narrative, said Max, who co-wrote the script with friend Jeremy Eckl.

“The three teen characters are struggling with different challenges,” said Max, who added that he feels confident viewers will find each of the teens relatable.

“Youth has different challenges,” he said. “It’s a transitioning time, with your expectations not always taken seriously. I think my film talks about the virtues of youth and how you can be overburdened by obstacles you face. It’s about not getting caught up in the pressures of adulthood, but learning that things are always changing and that you’ll not always be the same person you are today,” he said. “Outside events can make you aware that finding stability, at this point in life, can feel impossible,” Max said.

Youth is the longest film Max has created since he first began making videos and music videos when he was in sixth grade. Now a junior at Newtown High School, Max’s journey from family videographer to film maker has included opportunities and recognitions that have made him certain that this is a passion he will pursue his entire life.

A six-minute short film about bullying won Max second place at the State level, in the PTA Reflections contest, when he was in eighth grade. Not even having to work with a Flip camera with a cracked lens gave him pause.

His next break came when his grandfather, who owned a music store in Ossining, N.Y., connected him with musician Renato Abella. The next thing Max knew, he was making a music video for the musical artist, this time with a step up to a Sony video camera. The music video received a few thousand views on YouTube, said Max.

“At this point, I was really set on [film making],” said Max. “I talked to my parents and applied to the Regional Center for the Arts [RCA] in Trumbull,” he said. His acceptance there, since his freshman year, means splitting his time between core courses at Newtown High School and film, photography and training in the performance arts at RCA. Despite the workload, Max has found people there who share his passions, and is learning all aspects of the film world, he said.

   Max has been on the board of the Westport Youth Film Festival (WYFF) since his freshman year, and his first “real” film, Moonlight, was created through encouragement he received there. Moonlight was accepted into the National Film Festival for Talented Youth in 2012, and was selected by Hollywood director and producer Ron Howard as a finalist in the Greenwich Youth Film Festival. That film also received accolades from WYFF for Best Experimental and Best Film in Connecticut.

Last fall, Max scripted two other films, Astral and Sophie’s Tree, both of which were screened in February at a HealingNewtown event, and both of which were great learning experiences, said Max. Astral was his first dialogued film, and Sophie was focused on themes of growing up and innocence that he wanted to build upon.

“When 12/14 happened,” said Max, “I wanted to use what I do to express what I was feeling. I decided I wanted to visualize Sophie’s Tree. What happened at Sandy Hook School has influenced everything I’ve done since, whether in a big way or a small way.”

In just one weekend, Max filmed the movie and submitted it to the National Film Festival for Talented Youth, where it was accepted in January. He returned to Seattle for the Film Festival for Talented Youth in the spring, and while Sophie’s Tree did not garner any awards, as before, he found the experience and connections he made to be invaluable.

“I still wanted to make a longer film during the summer of 2013,” said Max. He had struggled with the screenplay for Youth that he had begun writing. It was not until enjoining the talents of his friend Jeremy Eckl that the script came together, said Max.

And it was not until he found Youth sponsored by another young artist in Newtown that he realized that the film could come to fruition.

Making a film has expenses, and for a 16-year-old, even a budget of $3,500 can be difficult to attain. Max turned to the online crowd fundraiser site Indiegogo to start a campaign to raise money. It was through Indiegogo that Johnny A. Williams, a 2013 recipient of a Newtown Cultural Arts Commission grant and owner of Johnny A. Williams Woodworking, came across Youth.

The quality of the short film accompanying the Indiegogo campaign impressed Mr Williams.

“It convinced me that this was an effort worth supporting. As an artist, I could see another artist in Max. Also,” he said, “on the community side, I could see [Max’s efforts] as trying to put Newtown on a new map, as an arts community.”

Mr Williams decided to come on board as an exclusive sponsor of the film, providing Max with an initial $1,500.

“I told Max that if he reached $3,000, I would get him the final $500.”

It is a symbiotic relationship beyond the money, said Mr Williams. As a former trend spotter in marketing for Infinia Foresight in New York City, he can provide Max with assistance in marketing and promoting the film. Max, in turn, will film a short promotion for Johnny A. Williams Woodworking that will precede each showing of Youth.

“It’s a feel good project for me,” said Mr Williams, “and fun for me to become a part of the Newtown community through the arts.”

Additionally, said Max, he is grateful for the help he has received from other community members, working as extras in the film, helping with wardrobe and makeup, and for allowing him to film at various locations around Newtown.

With filming barely finished and editing and scoring left to do — not to mention the start of school year — Max remains excited about introducing his latest film to his hometown audience.

“Film making-wise, I think I’ve upped my organizational skills with Youth,” he said.

“Making this movie has provided me with the comfort of knowing: This is how things are. It’s always amazing to me,” said Max, “to see a personal idea in your head become something tangible.”

Youth, starring Hayley Tate of Trumbull, Jeremy Eckl of Trumbull, and Nokomis Leaman-Logsdon of Newtown/Southbury, premieres Tuesday evening, September 17, at 7 pm, at Newtown Congregational Church, 14 West Street. Registration is appreciated to the free premier of Youth, and can be found at www.newtownartsfestival.com

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