High schoolers receive prizes in North Country student film fest

Tupper Lake High School student filmmaker Kassandra Sipler, middle, stands with fellow winners Mackenzie Burnett, left, and William Strack at the Beyond the Peaks Student Film Festival. Sipler won Best Documentary for her film “50 Years Cemented in Time: The Kathleen Bigrow Story.” (Provided photo — Kate Santana)

TUPPER LAKE — The winners of AdkAction’s inaugural Beyond the Peaks Student Film Festival were announced after the May 10 screening and red carpet event at The Wild Center, with students from Tupper Lake, Newcomb and Salmon River taking home awards.

Students received awards, had their photos taken on the red carpet and watched the films they’d spent weeks producing premiere on the big screen. The film festival was created in a close partnership between AdkAction and the Tupper Lake Central School District’s film class, and was spearheaded by high school teacher Wendy Cross.

In a press release, AdkAction Executive Director Brittany Christenson said “the event shattered expectations for a first-year festival.”

Students from Tupper Lake, Newcomb, Beekmantown, Long Lake, Salmon River, Westport and West Canada Valley submitted 50 films, ranging from 60 seconds to 15 minutes long, and shot using equipment from iPads to professional cameras.

Categories of films included animation, drama, Public Service Announcements, comedy, documentary and “Made in the Adirondacks.” They were viewed by 14 judges, who voted for first, second and third-place winners.


“True Colors,” created by Mackenzie Burnett and William Strack from Tupper Lake High School, won the Animation category. The film tackled tough topics like self-acceptance, being different and letting one’s authentic self shine.

“You’re a Wizard, Harry,” by Carley LaRose from Newcomb Central School, won the Comedy category and featured impressive special effects.

“50 Years Cemented in Time: The Kathleen Bigrow Story,” by Kasandra Sipler from Tupper Lake High School, won the Documentary category. The film showcased a local photographer who captured the spirit of the Adirondacks with her prolific portfolio of daily life.

Actor Sean Weil, best known for his roles in “Jessica Jones,” “Boardwalk Empire” and “Law and Order,” announced the winner of the Drama category. “Sature,” created by Timofey Valov from Newcomb Central School, won with a film that tackled the difficult topic of suicide.

“Back in Time,” by Kristina Khudiakova from Newcomb Central School, took top honors in the Horror, Sci-fi and Fantasy category with her psychological thriller that reminded the audience to pay attention to the people around you, even if they aren’t the star of the show.

Crowd favorite “Mountain is Mountain,” created by Kristina Khudiakova from Newcomb Central School, took home the Made in the Adirondacks category. The classic skier-versus-snowboarder feud had a surprise ending and high production quality.

The Open category invited longer films, up to 15 minutes. The winning film was “The Visitor,” created by Kanatires Barreiro, Autumn Benedict, Sohrenhes George and Ienonkwahawis from Salmon River High School. The film tells the story of how the creator brought the gift of plant medicines to the Bear Clan people.

“Don’t be Stupid,” created by Lawrence Lobdel from Westport High School, won the Public Service Announcement category.

“Lockdown,” by Hallie Hurwitz, Elizabeth Hynes, Alibra Rodriguez, Ireland Sample and Bryn Walsh from Beekmantown High School, won the Audience Choice Award for their powerful portrayal of the emotional toll of school shootings.

All the winning films are available for viewing at https://www.adkaction.org/project/student-film-festival/.