Apollo Outreach Initiative Finds New Home

Julian Ring

The Cinema Studies department wasn’t the only organization receiving a new home at the Apollo Theatre this weekend. The Apollo Outreach Initiative, a youth film and media program based in Oberlin, also gained new facilities and held a special screening of student films Saturday morning as part of the theater’s reopening celebration.

AOI began in 2009 under the direction of Oberlin College Associate Professors of Cinema Studies Rian Brown-Orso and Geoff Pingree. Aiming to provide elementary, middle, and high school students in Lorain County with opportunities to explore creative media, the year-round program has had no permanent location in its four-year history. AOI is now based where Manuel’s barbershop used to be, next to the Apollo, alongside the College’s Cinema Studies department. Students who participate in the program will be able to view their films on the theater’s 50-foot screen.

The morning began with a panel made up of those integral to AOI and its residence at the Apollo, as well as student participants from the past few years. Brown-Orso thanked the attendees and discussed the significance of AOI’s new location.

“I don’t know if there’s anyone who wasn’t a kid once who imagined how cool it would be to make something and have it shown in a movie theater,” she said. “That’s the future of AOI.”

Short testimonies were then given by Nikki Heyman, OC ’12 and former AOI students, Joe Kowalski and Madeline Geitz.

“To see kids express themselves through crafts, through film, through sound, engages all types of learners,” Heyman said. “It’s beautiful to watch them grow.”

Kowalski, a senior at St. Paul’s Catholic High School in Norwalk, infused some humor into his remarks.

“I’d like to thank everyone who made such a thing possible,” he said, “and I’d like to thank the Academy. Well, maybe someday. We hope you enjoy our work because we certainly did.”

Pingree introduced Carla Carter, AOI’s Media Production Coordinator, and Claudio Orso, the Outreach coordinator for the program. Pingree jokingly described Orso as the “mayor of Oberlin,” because “he knows everybody. If I want to get someplace quickly, I can’t go with Claudio because we will stop every five steps to talk to someone.”

Orso discussed passionately the importance of connecting education and film.

“Sharing what you do is just as important as making it in the first place,” he said. “We are creating a generation of makers.”

Carter talked about how happy she was to see the progression of AOI from its inception to today. “From where we started to where we are today, I’ve seen this program grow in leaps and bounds,” Carter said. “It’s been such an exciting experience with all these combinations of things that are happening in this workshop space.”

Academy Award¬–winning director Jonathan Demme, who attended several events at the Apollo this weekend, said a few words about his role in realizing the concept of the renovated theater. “Each of us in the room has a different reason for being excited,” he said. “The idea of having the Apollo taken by young people has come true. The most exciting filmmakers are right here, and we’re about to see their movies.”

The screening was prefaced with a short documentary by Robben Muñoz, OC ’12, on the AOI program, focusing on last year’s two-week summer camp for teens. Various student films, made by kids from grades 1–12, were then shown. Several student filmmakers were in the audience, and reacted excitedly to seeing their project on the big screen.

Highlights included “Turning Point,” the story of a melancholy janitor who must face his inner demons after becoming trapped in a supply closet; a series of three scenes using the same script but with entirely different plots involving dating, friendship, and interrogation; and a documentary on the Langston Project, where Oberlin College Cinema Studies students helped elementary school children create animations and videos to accompany their own poems. In between were everything from zombie films to stop-motion animation projects to silent films with powerful messages.

Saturday’s AOI screening showcased the opportunities the Oberlin community has provided to local children and gave a glimpse into what the future holds for the program with the reopening of the Apollo Theatre.