Published: Sunday, November 12, 2006
Project to put children in director's chair
Plans call for a student film festival next summer in New Castle.
By LAURE CIOFFI
NEW CASTLE, Pa. Cass Warner hopes to share some of her family's movie making legacy with area youngsters.
The granddaughter of Harry M. Warner one of the four Youngstown brothers who became Hollywood movie moguls was in New Castle last week explaining her Dream Factory project to area business people and church leaders.
Warner has partnered with the New Castle nonprofit social service agency, The Lawrence County Family Center, to provide this program.
"We want to provide a venue for kids to organize their thoughts and express an idea," said Brian Welsh, executive director of the family center. "We want to tie it in a very direct way to what they are learning in school."
To help in that process, Warner has contracted with Bill Field, a screenwriter and camera man who left Hollywood about 10 years ago to return to his native Alabama for family reasons.
Field, who was in New Castle last week with Warner, said after returning to Alabama that he started thinking about a career and ended up writing the book "Make a Movie That Tells a Story."
As a youngster, Field was fascinated with making movies and tried making his own films with his mother's 8 mm camera, some tape and scissors. He lost interest when it didn't turn out looking like "Bonanza," but his interest peaked again before he finished high school, he said.
He went to Hollywood where he worked in editing, camera and lighting and sound before going into writing, where he worked two seasons on the television show "Fame." He also has written feature films.
Field said he started marketing his book to schools in Alabama, and that led to The Hero Next Door project. Field teaches youngsters how to make a movie about someone in their community who, through an act of courage or kindness, made a difference.
It was that project that attracted Warner, who met Field at a conference on emerging technology in schools.
"I promised him we would do something. This fits under my dream for The Dream Factory, using film to educate, entertain and enlighten," she said.
"Educate, Entertain and Enlighten" has been the Warner family motto for decades since the early days when her grandfather and his brothers opened their first theater in New Castle in 1907. The theater is currently undergoing renovation by a private developer, and Warner is a technical consultant.
Warner says its fitting that her Dream Factory project brings her back to the spot where it all began for her grandfather and uncles.
But, more importantly, Warner believes that The Hero Next Door will help youngsters learn important skills like how to research, work cooperatively and organize their thoughts.
"If you did nothing else for a child and you gave them the tools to ask questions and be able to find the answers, you've got a citizen that is most likely to give society back something," she said.
They are still in talks with schools, but have also branched out to church leaders whose youth groups may be interested in the project.
Welsh said the first year they will focus on Lawrence County youngsters, but in following years they hope to expand the project to contiguous counties including those in Ohio.
Welsh said they are currently looking for corporate partnerships to help fund it.
The organizers want to get the movie making under way soon because they intend to have a street film festival next summer to show off the youngsters' work.
Welsh said similar festivals are held across the country where shop owners open their businesses and show the short films. He said the idea is to attract people to view the films, but it also brings traffic through the businesses.
Welsh said the goal is to make New Castle the "Sundance" of student film festivals. Sundance is the highly successful film festival in Utah started by Robert Redford.
Field said he's been greatly inspired by the story of the Warner brothers, who often faced setbacks throughout their professional lives, but they always forged on.
"I want New Castle to be a place where kids learn to never give up," Field said.
Welsh said one of the most attractive things about the project for him is it allows children who may not excel on the athletic field or academically to do something that will garner them recognition in the community.
"We want to make sure every child who participates walks down a red carpet and receives a DVD of the film," he said.
Warner sees it as a way to continue her family legacy.
"It takes somebody to believe in your dreams, and The Dream Factory is my dream," Warner said.