Downriver, Detroit student film consortium makes it count
Once again, the Wyandotte-based Downriver Detroit Student Film Consortium led by founder Scott Galeski has taken home a slew of awards, including Best of Show designations in four categories. The Digital Arts, Film and Television also awarded Galeski as its 2020 Educator of the Year.
One of those Best of Show awards from the DAFT Michigan Student Film Festival went to a documentary titled “Make It Count” created by Monroe Elementary School fifth-grader Romeo Jennison and other consortium students.
The story behind the documentary shows how award-winning filmmaker Galeski, a retired Wyandotte police detective who now works as a truant officer, discovers young talent for the DDSFC, and how, along the way, he helps kids at risk.
“The DDSFC is not about making motion pictures; it’s about unity,” Galeski said. “The time with our students is powerful, fun and a learning experience for all involved.”
“Make It Count” is narrated by and is about Romeo, who earlier this year was having serious behavior problems in school and was “disengaged from learning,” said Monroe Principal Vicki Wilson.
She called Galeski to see if he could help, and he talked to the boy, explaining to him the consequences of his actions. He also offered Romeo an incentive, after learning that the boy was interested in World War II. Galeski brought to the school a kit to make a model Corsair, an American fighter plane used in the war, and told Romeo that if he could go a week without behavior issues, the two of them could build the model together.
Finding out the boy was interested in WWII was sort of a “gift,” Galeski said, adding, “I’m an American historian and a past model builder.”
But neither the talk about consequences nor the incentive worked on Romeo.
His unwanted behavior continued. Wilson considered the situation and told Romeo she had made a mistake and that she had decided to let him build the model with Galeski anyway.
The boy balked at the plan, and she told him he had no choice.
So every day, Galeski came to the school, and in the principal’s office he and Romeo worked on the model plane.
In his documentary, Romeo describes the difficulties of building the Corsair. While the boy narrates, the movie shows a montage of photos of the cop and the kid working together. The photos were taken by Wilson.
In the film, Romeo describes thanking Galeski, and how the cop replied, “No. Don’t thank me. Make it count.”
“For me, it was so nice to watch them,” Wilson said. “They instantly bonded. We quickly saw a positive change in Romeo’s behavior. He started being better with his teacher and engaging in learning more, which was awesome. We started seeing effort. I was so happy. In a child’s life, all it takes is one person to connect and make a difference. I knew he needed someone he could count on unconditionally.”
Day after day, Galeski and Romeo talked as they glued tiny pieces together. One of the things the man and the boy spoke about was American WWII soldiers and the pilots who flew Corsairs.
“We spoke of sacrifice and giving,” Galeski said. “We talked about the different sacrifices of past generations. Romeo gets it.”
When Galeski wasn’t building the model with the boy, he was quietly working on a surprise for him. With the help of the Yankee Air Museum in Van Buren Township, he was able to find retired Cmdr. Harold Becker Jr., 98, who was a Navy fighter pilot in World War II. He flew a Corsair.
When the model was done, Galeski suggested to Romeo that he give it to the pilot, who lives in an assisted care facility in Belleville. Romeo was thrilled with the plan.
A few weeks later, Wilson accompanied the kid, the cop and Zachery Grew of Wyandotte on a visit to the pilot. Grew was part of the film group as a student. He graduated last year from Roosevelt High School, and is one of the young people who come back to the consortium now to help.
When they were leaving on the drive to go to Belleville, Romeo said, “I feel like this is the beginning of something amazing for me.”
Grew filmed the next part of “Make It Count,” which shows Romeo giving the model plane to Becker, and the veteran talking to the child about flying and his military career.
On the drive home after the meeting, the boy was “crazy happy,” his principal said. “You couldn’t get the smile off his face.
Wilson believes that Galeski has made a pivotal change in Romeo’s life.
“One person can change the trajectory of a kid’s life forever, and I believe that’s what happened,” she said.
“Make It Count” includes a montage of historic WWII photos of Corsairs and their pilots. The film is short, fast-paced and is as much about the sacrifices Romeo talked about with Galeski as it is about the boy himself.
Other youngsters involved in making the movie are Madison Krogol, a fifth-grader at Monroe; Maxwell King, a fourth-grader at Washington Elementary School; and Konnor Turner, a fifth-grader at Washington.
The film and others made by the students can be viewed on the DDSFC You Tube page. Other consortium movies that won awards this year, and the students who worked on them are:
• “Go,” Best of Show and Best Music Video — Brogan Loewen, Gloria Brown, Connor Smith, Romeo Keyser, Zachery Grew, De’Quan Jones
• “DNA,” Comedy Best of Show —Camari Garrison, Romeo Keyser, Meadow Cioccio, Shantynae Atwater, Noah Turner, Pallas Ramirez, Youssef Fadel, Romance Keyser, Calvin Johns, Damian Hougabook
• “Living With Boys,” Comedy Best of Show — Elina Villemure, Milo Smith, Dominic Barrett, Calvin Johns
• “Unconditionally Caroline,” Experimental Award of Excellence —Elina Villemure, Caroline Hubbard, Romeo Keyser, Calvin Johns
• “Changing Palletts,” Experimental Award of Excellence —Cayden and Zachery Grew
• “Seeing the Good,” Documentary Award of Excellence — Elina Villemure, Zachery Grew, Calvin Johns, Cayden Grew
• “Finding Turner Chase,” Comedy Award of Excellence — Noah Turner, Korneel’yus Turner, Zachery Grew, Romance Keyser, Calvin Johns
• “Mean Streets,” Comedy Award of Excellence — Camari Garrison, Meadow Cioccio, Noah Turner, Calvin Johns, Pallas Ramirez, Romance Keyser, Romeo Keyser, Dominic Barrett, Youssef Fidel
• “Team 121,” Sports Promo Award of Excellence — Zachery Grew
• “The Good in Me,” Experimental Award of Excellence — Gage Brewer-Duff, Zachery Grew
• “Tails of Red,” Documentary Award of Excellence — Konnor Turner, Justin Thacker, Cayden Grew, Zachery Grew
• “The Ripple Effect,” Public Service Announcement Award of Excellence — Milo Smith, Cayden Grew, Noah Harrison, Connor Smith, De’Quan Jones, Conrad Walter, Zachery Grew
• “Behind the Ring,” Documentary Honor Award —Camari Garrison, Dominic Barrett, Kya Garner-Minnick, Calvin Johns, Cayden Grew
• “Making Friends,” Comedy Honor Award — Romance Keyser, Pallas Ramirez, Elina Villemure, Zachery Grew, Calvin Johns
• “They Call Me Pnut,” Tribute Honor Award —Kamyria Brown, Zachery Grew, Calvin Johns