Screening as part of the TIFF Next Wave Film Festival, Fame High chronicles the path four students take as they pursue their dreams at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. From tense entry auditions to dazzling year-end performances, this inspirational documentary showcases the drama, competition, heartbreak and triumph of one school year as the wannabe performers contend with the expectations of parents and teachers, the distractions of romance, and doubts about their futures.

Toronto Film Scene was able to talk to Director Scott Hamilton Kennedy about the film and just what it takes to make a compelling documentary like Fame High .

Describe your film in 10 words or less:  A coming-of-age, documentary, musical at a performing arts high school.

Where did the idea for the film come from?

From the title you can see one inspiration coming from the original Fame . But I was also looking for a project where I can mix two genres: The raw reality of vérité documentary versus the magical realism of musicals and music videos. And I thought what better than a performing arts high school. I look for projects that have entertaining elements, big universal themes and hopefully a lot of soul. The importance of arts education is undeniable and is throughout the movie – at the same time I didn’t want to make the movie ‘about that.’ I like to say that I try to “bury the message” in character and story.

What’s the one thing you’d like people to know about your film?

Hopefully that it is entertaining and satisfying. I love a good pop song, a good meal of comfort food and I hope that Fame High does that. The audience reaction has been thrilling and humbling: eight-year-old girls to 80-year-old men laughing, crying, and cheering at the screen. As a filmmaker what more could I ask for?

What was the best thing about production? The most frustrating?

Probably the best thing about production was the cast and that I was given a lot of material to hopefully turn into a fascinating, entertaining and soulful story. To be honest: frustrating is a word that I’m trying to remove from my life as much as possible. Sadly I am still failing at it every day, but you’ve got to try right . That said, probably the most exhausting element was the sheer mass of trying to capture an entire school year. Especially in the editing process, trying to wrestle it down to a 97 minute film. But again, just like many things in life, this was also the most satisfying part of the experience. And of course there is always just money. Money has a way of making things difficult.

Scott Hamilton Kennedy, Director of Fame High

Scott Hamilton Kennedy, Director of Fame High

What are you working on next?

I like to say that I am percolating on several ideas right now. I really want to make a Mike Leigh-style improv-based scripted feature in my neighbourhood of Silverlake in Los Angeles. I have some wonderful actor friends that I want to work with, so that is one. And there are several different documentary ideas in different stages of pre-preproduction. And then there’s always paying the bills with gigs. Chasing that money again right?

Which filmmaker most inspires you?

Wow, I have to choose only one? As a filmmaker who didn’t go to film school, the films of Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Barbara Kopple, Akira Karasawa, Louis Malle and many more were my film school. Watching them over and over again. Sometimes with the sound on, and sometimes with the sound off, just trying to break down how all their pieces turned into magic. But there are so many scripted and documentary films that I see every year that continue to inspire me. Here are just a few from the past couple of years: The Waiting Room , Up the Yangtze , Silver Linings Playbook , The Kids Are Alright , Searching for Sugar Man , and so many more. I try to judge films not by their genre or subject matter but by the completeness of the journey: does the film take off on a clear journey, really take flight and bring that flight in for a landing and have that beautiful – and hopefully invisible – cohesiveness of a well told story.

If you could make your dream film, what would it be?

Trying to wrestle  Confederacy of Dunces into a successful film would be a great and daunting honour. But hasn’t Steven Soderbergh been trying to make that for about 15 years?

Fame High screens as part of TIFF Next Wave Film Festival on Saturday, February 16, 2013 at 12pm. Check the TIFF website for more info.

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