I was there the night they cancelled the musical. I saw the tears, felt the fear, and shared the disbelief. 15 days to flatten the curve seemed like an eternity.
Fast forward to the fall of 2021. We were just starting to poke our heads out from our Covid bunkers. It was that awkward in-between time when we still weren’t shaking hands, but we weren’t wiping down groceries anymore. I got a call from James Manno, the head of the fine arts department at South Orange Maplewood schools. He said, “Let’s make a documentary.” He had me at hello.
James spoke of the arts as a healing force. “But it’s more than that,” he said. “These students are not just surviving through the arts, they’re thriving. I want to tell that story.”
We wanted the film to come from the students. So, we assembled a group of high school film students and their teacher, Paul Marigliano, to figure out what this might look and sound like. It was important to them that the musical score be student generated. So right away our creative team grew to include a choir, a marching band, a pit orchestra, a wind ensemble, a cello quartet, and the sound engineers in the music tech class.
For the next six months I had a front row seat to the Columbia High School fine arts department. My camera was a hall pass, a backstage pass, a get-out-of-class pass, and a window into a creative cauldron. I had the great fortune to collaborate with young filmmakers, young musicians, and the teachers who devote their lives to them.
The film follows the fine arts department from the first hours of the lock down through some pretty dark days of isolation and frustration. The dedication of the teachers inspired me. They absolutely refused to give up. The honesty from the students caught me off guard. I won’t lie, the film gets a little heavy. But (spoiler alert) there is also some killer dancing.
The film is called “THE HEALING, ARTS IN A TIME OF COVID.” I’ll go ahead and brag that it’s a terrific title because I didn’t make it up. The students did.