By Catherine Ake
This winter marked Notre Dame’s 26th annual Student Film Festival held in the University’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. The festival features films produced by Notre Dame undergraduate students studying filmmaking through the Film, Television, and Theatre Department.
Each year, audience members vote through text message for their favorite film. This year’s Audience Choice Award went to Much Ado After School, a 15 minute film produced by Brian Lach and Nicole Sganga for Ted Mandell’s Documentary Production course.
Much Ado After School follows the stories of two young South Bend residents, Brian LeBron-Williams and Paul Ferguson, as they participate in the Robinson Community Learning Center’s Shakespeare Company. Each year the RCLC, which offers tutoring and after school enrichment activities to South Bend students, produces two of Shakespeare’s plays and participates in a monologue competition each fall. The Robinson Shakespeare Company began with 12 students in 2008 with the goal to introduce South Bend children to high quality theatre. Since its creation, the Company has expanded to six different locations, reaching 420 students.
“Our goal in making Much Ado After School was to show that for the children of the Robinson Center, it isn’t just about Shakespeare, it isn’t just about acting—it’s about being part of a family. I think we were successful—the audience really seemed to connect to Brian and Paul’s stories, and by the end of the film, they were rooting for them just like we were” said Lach.
Lach and Sganga’s documentary differed from other films shown at the festival. Out of the 11 films, only three were documentaries. Of the documentaries, theirs was the only one with a local focus. Many other filmmakers travelled to different states to capture their stories. Lach and Sganga’s focus reflects Notre Dame’s close connection with the South Bend community and commitment to local service. The RCLC is a part of the University and has many weekly Notre Dame student volunteers and support.
“It is so incredibly important for Notre Dame students to engage with the South Bend community. The city of South Bend is one of the greatest and most underrated assets of the Notre Dame student. I think if you ask any student volunteers at the Robinson Center, they will all tell you the same thing-- volunteering has been one of their greatest decisions during college! Not everyone in South Bend grew up in the same environment as a Notre Dame student… South Bend helps you grow. The kids are inspiring. And I think walking outside of the Notre Dame bubble teaches you a lot about yourself” said Sganga.
Lach and Sganga participated in initial Shakespeare practices to familiarize themselves with the children and the acting program. After the children became comfortable around them, they transitioned into third party observers, documenting the children’s transformation from ordinary students into confident actors. Their intimate knowledge of the program and the children’s stories comes through their video
“Aside from being a subject many people in the area were familiar about, I think Much Ado won the Audience Choice Award due to the characters we were able to follow, and the story we had to share. As Robinson Shakespeare Company head Christy Burgess says in our film, “These kids are not expected to be good at Shakespeare, they’re not expected to win awards…. and they do!”—and people love to see that” Lach said.