Liam Hurley

DIRECTOR — Liam Hurley recreating a shot from the film they made with Lyra Klinger at Willowside.

Willowside Middle School students Liam Hurley and Lyra Klinger won Best Creative Storytelling at the fifth annual 5-Minute Film Festival in April for their film “A Coming Out Story: Alex and Their Voice,” which explores a transgender student’s school life struggles from a first-person perspective.

Issues such as choosing which bathroom to use without having a gender-neutral option are presented in thoughts and questions that push the narrative. The students used an iPad, green screens, stop motion and music to tell the story.

Liam said these are real-life transgender issues a person may have on a day-to-day basis.

“Choosing which restroom, that's a big one. We worked off of that and then added to it,” Liam said.

Lyra said she and Liam wanted to share how sometimes people are going through a lot more than they let on.

Their teacher Annette Dobler said the students worked independently to create their film. Liam and Lyra ran it by her, she looked at the script, approved the idea and then let them have at it.

“I write video scripts all the time — like short, two-minute video scripts,” Liam said.

Although Liam said he identifies with the gender neutral pronouns “they” and “them,” the film isn’t based on their life or the experiences of anyone the students know personally.

Liam ended up doing a lot of the filming and some of the editing. Lyra selected the dramatic music and worked on the credits, along with helping Liam come up with ideas.

“We wanted to make something that was simple, but dramatic, that we could make quickly, add into the film and perfect it,” Lyra said.

Liam said it was an honor just to be at the festival but kept thinking about what it would be like to win an award. When it was announced out loud, both students were shocked by the results. Dobler was surprised too, and they all looked at each other in disbelief.

“It was pretty exciting. I think we didn’t expect to get an award because we didn’t want to set ourselves up for disappointment,” Lyra said.

Liam is still awestruck more than a month later, and it’s made them even more committed to filmmaking.

“A lot of the time I'll carry around a camera by my side just in case you see something like, ‘Oh, I need to record that. That’d be pretty cool,’” Liam said.

Dobler said Liam has a very creative mind; she said she is often amazed by the ideas and stories that pop out of it.

This was the first year any of her students won at the festival.

Liam is preparing for next year’s festival. As a sequel to this year’s film, Liam is thinking of creating a sequel to this year’s film showing the changes Alex has gone through after finding their voice.

Liam and Lyra are also considering starting a LGBTQIA club at the school. (The full acronym stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and/or queer, intersex and asexual and/or ally.)

“Twice a month we could meet in the library and have an LGBTQ chat session,” Liam said.

Dobler said she thinks the club would be great because it would help support a lot of kids, and she said she would be willing to help spearhead it.

In the meantime, Liam hopes to show “Alex and Their Voice” to the whole school.

“I know we do have a few LGBTQ students who aren’t out. It will help them feel more comfortable,” Liam said.

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