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George Wythe student strolls red carpet with VHSL film win

In January, Savannah Shaver was looking over the Virginia High School League website, hunting for information about the upcoming forensics competition, when she learned that the VHSL sponsored a film festival.

The rising senior at George Wythe High School said she’d acted a lot, including competitions in forensics and in one-act plays each fall, but only on stage. Her experience in front of or behind a camera was slim to none, leaning heavily toward the none.

Still, filmmaking seemed like something she might like to do, so she recruited a group to help out, including on-screen talent Sarah Fowler and cinematographer Alex Thomas, and got to work. At the beginning, Shaver said, none of them really knew what they were doing. They were holding the camera and pointing the lens in the right direction, and that was about it.

The trio filmed in the high school auditorium and in the basement of King’s Produce in January and February. They wrapped filming and with the blessing of George Wythe Principal Dante Lee sent “Disillusionesque” off for judging and went on about their lives.

For Shaver that meant capturing her second state ring in forensics storytelling. Then, on May 18, she got word that her movie was in the top eight in the state. She booked a hotel room in Richmond and in June was there, on the red carpet, picking up a state title in filmmaking.

“Disillusionesque” had won first in the experimental category, besting a host of bigger schools, many, if not most, boasting courses on filmmaking and video editing. In fact, Shaver’s film was the only contribution from a 1A school to capture a title. The only other 1A school to make it in the top eight was Radford High School, which walked away with sixth places in the documentary and narrative categories.

The state’s top films in the five categories – experimental, narrative, commercial, animation and documentary – were screened and awarded on June 3 and 4. Shaver’s piece was shown on June 3 and is available to watch on YouTube at

Shaver said she storyboarded a basic plot but said she, Fowler and Thomas were able to pay a lot of attention to mood, thanks to the looser rules of experimental filmmaking.

“You can see the mood change,” she said.

Describing the story as a search for identity through the pitfalls of expectations, Shaver said it’s a tale that has been told often, though not so stripped and bare.

“Our film stood out in that it really meant something,” Shaver said. “The most important part of what we made was the feeling behind it.”

The experience had a definite impact on Shaver. She plans on entering five films, one for each category, next year. More than that, though, she said she’d been thinking about attending Virginia Tech after high school, where she’s considering pursuing a theater degree with an emphasis on cinema.

She said she knew she had an interest in directing on stage. “Disillusionesque,” she said, awakened a desire on the film side.

“It all comes down to storytelling,” she said. “(Film) is a great medium to express that.”

Virginia is one of three states to offer a high school film competition. 2016-17 will be the third year students can compete in filmmaking.

When Shaver isn’t filmmaking, she’s busy.

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“I’m not a fan of wasting time,” she said.

Last school year, she had a part in the one-act play “I Never Saw Another Butterfly.” Currently she’s playing Jasmine in the Adaire Theatre’s version of “Aladdin,” practicing every day for eight hours at a whet. The curtain rises June 17-19 and June 24-26.

After “Aladdin,” Shaver said she’ll audition for “Alice in Wonderland” at Wytheville Community College, her fifth show with that troupe.

In her at-home time, she’s writing, mostly music.

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