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Local arts high school students experience Sundance film festival for first time



High school sophomores Liam Johnson and Izzy Casandra-Newsam in Utah for the Sundance Film Festival.
High school sophomores Liam Johnson and Izzy Casandra-Newsam in Utah for the Sundance Film Festival.
Courtesy of Jon Artigo

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Thirteen student filmmakers from Los Angeles County High School for the Arts attended the closing weekend of the Sundance Film Festival, the first time the school sent a group to the famous film event.

The exhibit and competition in Park City, Utah, wrapped up Sunday with the showing of the winners announced a day earlier. 

RELATED: New head of LACHSA talks about famous arts high school's future

'These kids — some are cinematographers, writers, directors, editors — so to see the films on the screen, and to meet the filmmakers, and hear the filmmakers talk about their projects, I think has been really inspirational to them," said Jon Artigo, who chairs LACHSA's cinematic arts department and traveled with the student group to Sundance.

"Overall, the motivation for me to try to make this trip happen was for them to see what they can aspire to be or aspire to do,” he said.

Artigo said the school, students and families planned and raised money for the trip for over a year. Parents held a raffle for Disneyland tickets and other prizes, he said, and contributed additional funds to cover the costs, which amounted to about $1,000 per student. 

The students are learning how to make short films at school, so Artigo got them tickets for two short programs at Sundance. They also had tickets to a few feature film screenings.

Liam Johnson, a sophomore at LACHSA, said he got to talk with the director of the documentary "Being Evel" that looks at the chaotic life of daredevil Evel Knievel. He said the film made him realize that films can have an impact on how the public views heroes.

"It makes you kind of remember that when you're making your own project," he said.

The high school recently expanded its film program with new equipment purchased around the time students moved into a new $31 million facility. Among its collection are four RED EPIC cameras, high-end equipment more commonly seen on the set of Baz Luhrmann's films than a high school campus.

The school is widely regarded as one of the top arts high school's in the region. Alumni include singer Josh Groban.