Friday, February 21, 2014

My Old School Gets High Grades

My Old School, the documentary tracing the history of the former Woonsocket High School, the largest abandoned school in New England, premieres on WSBE Rhode Island PBS on Thursday, March 6 at 9:30 p.m. 

The historic building, constructed in 1914, housed thousands of students over the years as Woonsocket High School, then as Woonsocket Middle School. In the school's 95 years of operation, students endured cultural movements, wars, shifts in social norms, plus the familiar rites of passage of being a middle and high school student.

After the school closed in 2009, director Jason Allard and executive producer Scott Gabrielson sought to preserve memories of the old school they had both attended. The crew of My Old School was granted exclusive access to the massive abandoned school, where they gathered hundreds of hours of footage and thousands of photographs. This footage, combined with dozens of interviews with former students, faculty, and city officials, revealed a comprehensive history of the school, and commentary on American education as a whole.

The film presents topics and emotions everyone can relate to, set against the backdrop of the beautiful building, now closed off in the center of the city. Rhode Island PBS discovered the documentary on the crowd funding site, Kickstarter, after filmmakers raised more than $4,000 to cover the costs of a local screening and distribution. My Old School made its theatrical debut in Woonsocket in October to a crowd of more than 400.

The film follows a growing trend of Rhode Island filmmakers creating films about the Ocean State. With technology and editing equipment becoming more readily available, more independent filmmakers are able to create high-quality films. My Old School was produced with a budget of only $200. The entire project was a two-man team from the start. Jason Allard handled directing, cinematography, editing, as well as web design and construction, while Scott Gabrielson served as executive producer, graphic designer, and animator. Both men will be in Rhode Island PBS studios for their film's broadcast premiere.

Director Jason Allard, a recent graduate of the University of Rhode Island (class of 2012), has produced hundreds of videos for a variety of projects, ranging from online shorts to corporate commercials and news segments. My Old School is his first feature-length documentary and directorial debut. His inspiration for the film came after working on an independent web series he dubbed "Abandoned Mondays" where he used the weekday to visit and capture deserted sites across New England.

Executive Producer Scott Gabrielson has more than 30 years of experience in graphics, film, and the fine arts profession. Scott served for 15 years as photography instructor at the Community College of Rhode Island. He has worked with Johnson & Wales University, the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, Pizzeria Uno, and other organizations, developing educational and training media. He is currently developing new programming ideas for local television.

My Old School is more than just a look back at one building - it's a retrospective look at everyone's school experiences.