By Lynne T. Jewell
For nearly two decades, animation projects created by students at Thomas Starr King Middle School have been proudly screened at the historic Vista Theatre.
Then came the COVID-19 crisis and on March 17th the Los Angeles Unified School District shut down. Prospects of the digital-imaging projects ever being shown publicly on the big screen looked grim.
But let’s not doubt the determination of tenacious middle school teacher Kirk Palayan. He turned to long-time supporter, Vista Theatre owner Lance Alspaugh, who generously offered to show the 2D and 3D cartoon and community film projects–virtually.
The 17th annual King Middle School Animation & Film Festival went on without a hitch during the first weekend of June at the Vista ‘Virtual’ Theatre in Los Feliz.
Palayan said the students never anticipated that their projects would receive marquee attention: “They were really excited when I told them the screening had not been canceled after all.”
LFIA board member and former King School staff member Mary Beth Sorensen said that when she met Palayan in the early 2000s, he was one of the most popular teachers on campus. “His enthusiasm and creativity were so infectious,” she recalled. “He’s full of positive energy and always dedicated to providing creative opportunities to the kids. He’s amazing.”
Palayan’s in-demand animation class became the genesis for the creation of the film festival as a vehicle for students to showcase their work on the big screen.
With its box office-closed, the Vista Theatre brought the student projects into the homes of family and fans last month. The festival opened with a welcome to the virtual viewers from Vista’s Alspaugh, who provided a brief history of our iconic neighborhood movie house starting with silent films in the 1920s up to the current King student-produced creations.
Palayan, a 1990 graduate of John Marshall High School, followed with an overview of the student digital imaging process from character design to storyboarding. “I’m so proud of what the students have done,” he told the home audience.
The LFIA have has been a long-time sponsor of the festival along with major Hollywood film studios. During the closing credits, LFIA received special thanks for its ongoing support of the festival over the past 17 years.
So, thankfully, there is a silver lining for teacher Kirk Palayan and his middle school students: their animation and community film projects were shown virtually on the silver screen.
A version of this column appeared in the July edition of the Los Feliz Ledger.