Cheryll Hidalgo began her journey to create SAAS’s film department in one of the most unlikely places imaginable: a dark storage room in the basement of the Art Center. In the years since then she has reconstructed that room multiple times before finally leaving it as what is now arguably the most comfortable rooms in the entire school. What was once a storage closet containing minimal film supplies has been expanded to house a screening area, camera and equipment closet, and a fully-functional editing lab. Anyone who walks into that room now will see many colorful posters lining the walls, as well as a display shelf housing a fraction of the awards that SAAS students have won over the years. However, the film program has not always been as successful as it is now. I sat down with Cheryll to talk about the program’s origins, and to discuss just how far it’s come.
“I [originally] got myself into a training program in machining” says Cheryll. “I got an industrial job with General Electric and pursued a career as a machinist for a couple of years. I got interested in programming, so I went back to school and got a certificate in computer programming. I [ended up] becoming a systems analyst, and that’s what I was doing when my daughter told me that [SAAS] wanted to start a film program.” SAAS had originally had a single film class during the spring before Cheryll came, but that teacher left, leaving the program in jeopardy. “They had one computer and two cameras, and they were looking to start a real film program. I applied and got hired in winter of 2000.”
The first couple of years were rough as the film program was developed. “[While] they let me be the architect for the program, that first winter and spring trimester, I was actually teaching out of the Temple Building as a guest in one of the science classroom. There was a toilet that had been turned into a closet. I would wheel out the cart that had my two cameras, and that’s what I did for the winter and spring. The next fall, the Art Center opened, and they gave me the space in the basement that had originally been designed for storage.” So began the hours and hours that made up the refurbishing of the film lab. She experimented with different before settling on the current setup. Today, the room is broken up into a screening area and editing bays.
Cheryll also had to deal with the challenge of getting the community to recognize the importance of media in our century. “When people think about film, the first things that come to mind are Hollywood, entertainment, and fun, not the serious media making that actually has an impact on the world," Cheryll says. Media and audio-visual language is becoming more and more important in our culture. Literacy in the 21st century is not just reading and writing [anymore]. It’s also visual-audio literacy.” While the challenge of getting people to understand the significance of film is an ongoing struggle, Cheryll is confident that she can continue to educate her students in order to create a more media-savvy SAAS community.
Cheryll’s hard work has certainly paid off, and SAAS’s film program is becoming more and more of a staple in the school community. A good example of just how popular the film department has become is obvious during Open Houses. When I attended this year’s fall Open House, there were a lot of students that came over to the film table and expressed their interest in taking film classes. To Cheryll, that is one of the most gratifying moments, and is a reassurance that her program is working. What started out as a storage room in the Art Center has become a place for SAAS students to express their creativity in ways other than drawing and painting. The students who have taken and are taking film classes at Seattle Academy have won awards, made industry connections, and learned life lessons. “When I see students doing brilliant things such as making a leap of understanding, and then seeing that in their [films], that [makes me believe] I’m succeeding as a teacher.”