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Postville teen wins Iowa student film challenge with 'Pressure Pointe'

Aleesa Lavrenko of Postville laces up her toe shoes to give viewers a glimpse into the rigors of ballet preparation and
Aleesa Lavrenko of Postville laces up her toe shoes to give viewers a glimpse into the rigors of ballet preparation and performance in her film, “Pressure Pointe — A Ballet Film.” The high school junior took top honors in the 2020 Film Lounge: Student Challenge. The competition for students in grads 7 to 12 is produced by Iowa PBS in partnership with the Iowa Arts Council and Produce Iowa, both divisions of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs. (Aleesa Lavrenko)
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With an eye toward becoming a filmmaker, Aleesa Lavrenko, 17, of Postville, turned her passion for dance into a winning pas de deux.

Her 3-minute film, “Pressure Pointe — A Ballet Film,” has taken top honors in The Film Lounge: Student Challenge.

Now in its second year, the student program is a spinoff of The Film Lounge, a series showcasing short independent films by Iowa artists. Both events are produced by Iowa PBS in partnership with the Iowa Arts Council and Produce Iowa, divisions of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.

Lavrenko’s film, and a dozen other student productions, will be shown online at 3 p.m. Saturday during a Film Academy Watch Party. It will stream over OVEE (Online Viewing and Engagement Experience), a shared media viewing platform funded by the Corporation of Public Broadcasting. Registration is free at ovee.itvs.org/screenings

The challenge is designed to let Iowa students in grades 7 to 12 combine creativity with technology to make 1- to 5-minute films in any genre, from documentaries and narrative fiction to animation and music videos.

The filmmakers chosen for statewide recognition are inducted into The Film Lounge Academy. They and their crews also get to discuss film production with local industry professionals and glean some behind-the-scenes tips.

“Most students have become familiar and comfortable with digital platforms such as YouTube, and often have dreams of creating and posting their own films and videos,” Veronica O’Hern of the Iowa Arts Council said in a prepared statement. The challenge can help set them “on a career path in the creative workforce right here in Iowa,” she added.

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Lavrenko, a junior at Postville High School, found out about the competition through Dara Knudtson, the high school Talented and Gifted coordinator. Lavrenko has been involved with TAG since fifth grade.

“She took time with each and every student to figure out what they absolutely love to do,” Lavrenko said. “I’m a very creative person. I like film, I like theater, so I said, ‘I always have ideas to make little films, so maybe I could do one of those.’ So she did some searching and she found the film challenge. She offered it to me and I jumped at the opportunity.”

Her first thought was to make a music video with lots of students, to highlight her school’s ethnic and cultural diversity. She sent out an email, but didn’t get enough volunteers, so she turned on her toes in another direction: ballet.

She had studied general dance from ages 5 to 12, but stopped until about 9 months ago, when she decided to pursue professional ballet studies with Sabrina Schmitt at Expressions Dance Studio in West Union. Schmitt let her use the studio Jan. 13 for the filming. The pressure was on, since entries were due Jan. 15.

“A big challenge of mine was to get started,” Lavrenko said. “I decided to make this film challenge an even bigger challenge for me, so two days before the due date, I grabbed my friend Fatima Henriquez right after school at 3:30 and we dashed to the studio, which is 30 miles away.”

She had a ladder and her camera, and “a whole bunch of other stuff,” and until 9 p.m., she told Henriquez the clips she wanted, placed her with the camera in various positions, and Lavrenko began dancing while her friend rolled video. The next day, Lavrenko edited the film and submitted it with about 5 minutes to spare.

Viewers will see her rehearsing, then after a break, going onstage, taking everything she’s learned into a performance.

“It’s really important to me to show how hard ballet is,” Lavrenko said. “For a lot of people, they underestimate it. They think it’s this really girlie thing that not a lot of guys do, so it must be easy. I wanted to use the film to show all the dedication and practice and hard work that goes into ballet to make it look good.”

Winning wasn’t paramount to her.

“Honestly, this entire project was more of a fun thing for me,” she said, “because I always have ideas in my head. So it’s just like a little outlet for me to let one of my ideas go. It’s good to be recognized — and I’m eternally grateful — but I’m just happy to have participated.”

Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

Student films selected for viewing

Here are the student films selected for Saturday’s online Film Academy Watch Party:

• Ankeny Centennial High School: “The Parabox” by Connor Henzi, Andrew Mumm, Alaina Schafroth and Carter Dirksen. This horror/suspense film finds two classmates who get stuck in an alternate universe.

• (Cedar Rapids) Marion Home School Assistance Program: “The Babysitter” by Naomi Pumphrey. Created for kids, teens and adults, this film encourages viewers to be grateful for their blessings.

• Cedar Rapids Washington High School/Homeschool: “LeVake Family Trick Shots” by Palmer LeVake. This film shows people doing everyday things in amazing ways.

• (Des Moines) Callanan Middle School and Central Academy: “Best Friends Forever” by Lex Brooks, Mike Hodges and Leo Brooks. Best friends spend all their time together learning how to trust and depend on each other — until one of them dies due to unknown circumstances.

• Des Moines Lincoln High School: “Creative Contemporary Movement at Central Academy” by Myles Bodtke. This documentary showcases the Creative Contemporary Movement course at Central Academy.

• Des Moines Roosevelt High School: “Boatsong” by Andrew Hilmes and Jolie Seitz. A music video about realizing the mess you have created and facing the reality surrounding you.

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• Des Moines Roosevelt High School: “Late Bus” by Niko Fortune. A stop-motion animation about problem solving in a windy situation.

• Des Moines Roosevelt High School: “The Rocket” by Abraham Schaecher. A stop-motion animation about a rocket launch and the challenges the rocket faces during its journey into the unknown.

• Eddyville Blakesburg Fremont High School: “My Hero” by Allison Walker. In a town full of superheroes, this family battles separation from their father as a new father-figure emerges.

• Marion Vernon Middle School: “Power Music Video” by Autumn Eiben, Tabetha Egan and Samantha Tyo. A music video that says guys don’t need all the credit — women do great things and get overlooked for their work.

• Oskaloosa High School: “My Broken Mind” by Grace Richardson. This realistic fiction opens the viewer’s heart to love while raising awareness about abuse in relationships.

• Postville High School: “Pressure Pointe — A Ballet Film” by Aleesa Lavrenko. This art film captures the thrill and motivation of ballet while showing the preparation that leads up to a performance.

• Waukee High School: “The Nosebleed” by Paige Fahrenkrug, Anna Albaugh, Xyola Busch, Sarah Kelly and Ayla Schiller. In this short comedy, a young woman devises a creative solution when she gets a nosebleed before an important job interview.

TO WATCH

• What: Film Academy Watch Party, featuring 13 entries from The Film\ Lounge: Student Challenge, including the winning entry, “Pressure Pointe”

• When: 3 p.m. Saturday

• Where: OVEE (Online Viewing and Engagement Experience)

• Registration: Free at ovee.itvs.org/screenings

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• Details: iowaculture.gov/media/film-lounge/film-lounge-student-challenge

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.