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Film program teaches black history through art

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Youth dancers at the Edge School of the Arts in Laurelton, along with students from PS 40, IS 59 and MS 365, wrapped up filming a short movie entitled “Four Little Girls” about the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Ala..

The founder and director of the dance school, Kerri Edge, directed the film, which was completed May 25 at Rufus Park in Jamaica. Edge created the project as part of the ESOTA educational programs with help from Greg Mays, founder of the cultural center A Better Jamaica, three years ago.

“The program is teaching African-American history, specifically the civil rights movement, through the arts,” Edge said. “There is a poetry component conducted by the African Poetry Theatre, a film component that is conducted by a A Better Jamaica, and the dance component is conducted by ESOTA.”

ESOTA is located at 217-12 Merrick Blvd.

During the poetry classes, the students learned about the four girls who were killed in the church bombing and the racial climate at the time, according to Edge. In the film program they learn how to “match what they’ve learned through images, and they learn how to bring those images together to tell a story,” Edge said.

The students are taught how to storyboard, operate a camera, and in the dance component, they take their storyboard to guide them through the process of developing dance images that will communicate what they found in their research on the civil rights era.

Other students who are not in the cast can participate in the costume or sound crew.

“The overall project is about the four little girls that were killed in 1963 when their church was bombed by the KKK,” Edge said. “The poetry, the film and the dance, it’s telling that story.”

Sadiyah Stephens, 15, a jazz, tap, modern, and African dance alumna of ESOTA, and a drama major at Talented Unlimited, a public performing arts high school in the Upper East Side, was happy to be in the cast. Still, she was skeptical at first.

“At first I thought that it wouldn’t really work out or that it really wouldn’t happen,” Sadiyah said. “You don’t get those type of opportunities all the time.”

Sadiyah believes that without the film component of the ESOTA educational program, she wouldn’t have been selected to attend Talented Unlimited.

“It was really cool, because I’ve never actually done a movie before,” said the Jamaica native. “It was nice to say that you took part in it. I felt special and grateful for it all.”

Tanasia Wayne, 17, is also an ESOTA dancer and plans to graduate from the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, in Astoria, next summer. She would like to use this opportunity to get into Howard University, a historically black school, and major in dance and minor in business management.

Tanasia, who was also a production assistant, learned a lot of history.

“This is something that everyone needs to know,” Tanasia said. “It was history in an interactive way vs. just sitting down and reading about it. It was being a part of it and learning who was affected.”

She was also excited about being a production assistant.

“To be able to see how a film set was run was very eye-opening to me,” said Tanasia from Springfield Gardens.

She managed the other cast members and the shooting continuity of the film.

Edge hopes to premiere the film on Sept. 15, the 54th anniversary of the bombing. A location has not been determined as of yet.

Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

Updated 9:02 am, June 21, 2017
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