Abbey Quinn (right) asks a dispirited Peter Mikulski for his autograph after his anxiety-fueled standup routine to an audience of one during “Stood Up,” the entry from Lyons Township High School students, at the Student Silent Film Festival on Jan. 25. | Screenshot

Since the early 1980s, both Lyons Township and Riverside Brookfield high schools have offered students the opportunity to practice television arts, creating content including newscasts, documentaries, commercials and live sports broadcasts all in an in-house, professional studio setting.

During the past 40 years, TV students from both programs have brought home dozens of awards from local and regional high school TV conferences judged by television educators from a variety of backgrounds, helping budding TV and film producers and talent hone their craft through real-world experiences.

In 2017, three suburban men who met at an event for high-school media educators put their minds together to develop a way to help Chicago area film students learn about the virtually forgotten art of silent filmmaking and how embracing it could prove revolutionary.

The Student Silent Film Festival was the brainchild of Ed Newmann, a Hinsdale resident who is the founder of Calabash Animation and an award-winning animator whose work ranges from Disney’s “Pete’s Dragon” and “Charlie Brown” TV specials to directing hundreds of TV commercials; Bill Allan, the supervisor of television services at LTHS with a history in the commercial film and TV industry; and Derek Berg, the founder of Clarendon Hills Music Academy and Recording Artist Academy.

LTTV lead teacher Bill Allan stops for a photo with student filmmakers (front row, from left) Gabrielle Boillat, George Gangas, Abbey Quinn, Abby Gertsmeier, Annie Price, (back row, from left) Elliott Marcoux, Maddox McDonald, Peter Mikulski, Michael Badrov, Karman Kapsa and Daniel Murray on Jan. 25 at the Student Silent Film Festival at Downers Grove’s Tivoli Theater. LTTV was one of three winners in the contest. | Photo by James C. Svehla

Held Jan. 25 at the Tivoli Theater in Downers Grove, complete with a red-carpet social hour before the film screenings, the festival included entries from students at both Riverside-Brookfield and Lyons Township high schools.

Entries were shown with live musical accompaniment by Berg using a uniquely designed keyboard rig that employs virtual instruments sampled from classic synthesizers.

From Lyons Township, 10 LTTV students collaborated to produce “Stood Up,” a film about an anxious student preparing for a standup comedy routine who finds that once he finally makes it on stage, there is only one person in the audience.

Junior Maddox McDonald, of LaGrange Park, served as the writer/director of “Stood Up,” which received one of three top honors at the festival.

Peter Mikulski sweats through his standup routine in front of an audience of one (Abbey Quinn) during “Stood Up,” the entry from Lyons Township High School students, at the Student Silent Film Festival on Jan. 25. | Screenshot

“When making a film, no matter how big or small, the first step is always the story,” he said. “It needed to be a story simple enough to be told without words, but not too simple as to bore the audience.”

McDonald, who hopes to attend film school, said seeing his film on the big screen was nothing short of unbelievable. 

“We all leaned on each other and uplifted each other in order to tell the best story we could,” he said. “I’ve made some short films before, which I posted on YouTube. Sometimes, I would have a little screening with the cast and crew in my basement, but that’s about it. Being able to share my work with an entire audience at a film festival was the coolest thing ever — and doing that surrounded by my friends, the people that collaborated on the project together, makes it all the sweeter.”

Allan said that what made the fest special was that students with a variety of film experiences came together to create one masterpiece. 

“What it did was bring together a group of students from other areas of the program who wouldn’t normally work together,” he said. “Collaboration is the best thing.”

RBTV students (front row, from left) Jenny Thomas, Zane Simon, Stella Pizana, (back row, left to right) Delilah Luna del Castillo, Cameron Dominic, Makayla Angshed, Hector Angulo, John Frieh and Dylan Wood at the Silent Student Film Festival at the Tivoli Theater in Downers Grove on Jan. 25. | Photo courtesy of Gary Prokes

RBHS, which has participated in the film festival since its inception, had nine students work together on this year’s film, “11 Miles,” which told the story of a girl who relies upon an urban legend to try and locate her lost sister.

Junior Makayla Angshed, of Brookfield, said the best part of the evening was celebrating their hard work in making a unique movie.

“The best part of the festival was dressing up with my peers and getting to spend time with them,” she said. “We’re a unique group, but we all bounced off each other’s energy pretty well.”

Due to her experiences with RBTV and opportunities such as the Student Silent Film Festival, Angshed said she hopes to go into a television or film arts field in the future.

“I am fascinated with TV and movie production, and I do enjoy journalism,” she said.

Gary Prokes, the longtime television arts production teacher at RB who has helped put RBTV on the regional map, was pleased to see his students create a visual work of art from start to finish on their own.

“I was proud that they worked as a team together on a single story; that is the biggest hurdle,” he said. “Finding time to shoot everything in different locations across the area and downstate was a major undertaking.”

Other participating high schools in the festival included Maine East, Maine South, Victor J. Andrew, Vernon Hills, Barrington, Lake Forest, Mundelein, Neuqua Valley and Alan B. Shephard.

Following the fest, each school received an HD digital file of their movie with its musical accompaniment.

To watch the video of this year’s film festival, visit