News Column

Film program Inspired Minds gives Manatee County students the chance to be movie stars

December 6, 2013


Dec. 06--LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Manatee County students will walk the red carpet this weekend when their film is screened at Lakewood Ranch Cinemas.

The red carpet walks begin at 9 a.m. Saturday for the debut of "Safe," a short film made by Manatee County students in the summer program Inspired Minds.

"Safe," a movie created by students in elementary through high school, is about doing the right thing when no one is watching.

The film, shot at Braden River Elementary, focuses on students whose true colors are revealed when they become trapped together in a high-security super school with no adults around to enforce the rules.

The 13-minute film combines action and adventure themes with a message about morals.

Heather Manley, director of Inspired Minds, said the organization teaches creativity and collaboration.

Students helped Manley write the script and gave feedback, operated cameras, acted and assisted with wardrobe and art direction.

"It is mostly hands-on participation," Manley said. "The goal is to combine literacy and character education with filmmaking while spreading positive messages to their peers."

Nasya Kastelik, 13, who is home-schooled, enjoys the classroom experience Inspired Minds provides. Nasya has been

in the program two years.

In "Safe," Nasya worked in front of and behind the camera. She is looking forward to walking the red carpet Saturday.

"It's the reward after doing the work of running lines and going through props," Nasya said. "It makes you feel special."

Inspired Minds students are also looking forward to seeing their movie; they haven't seen the finished cut.

"I can imagine what it looks like, but the magic will be when we actually see it," Nasya said.

For a celebrity touch, students who create films through Inspired Minds, visit other classrooms, talk about the message of their movie and take questions from their peers.

Inspired Minds has been open three years. Manley, who started her career as a special education teacher, had friends in the film industry and an interest in combining the art of film with education.

"I tried it as a pilot, and I loved it so much that I turned it into a business," Manley said.

She started the program with educator Helaine Grant and filmmaker Steven Lesser from New Jersey.

Inspired Minds offers a two week summer program, as well as a program throughout the school year.

In January, the spring program will begin at Nolan Middle School for elementary and middle school students. The program starts Jan. 8 and runs every Wednesday after school for 12 weeks.

During the school year, Manley said, each student creates a mini-film.

Last year, students made short films that put a modern twist on Aesop's Fables.

Student work with Inspired Minds has received awards and recognition.

"Color Me invisible," a film made by students in the summer program last year, won the Teen Truth Award. It was also selected for the Sarasota Film Festival, Orlando Film Festival, Sunscreen Festival, Fort Myers Beach Film Festival, Lifetree Film Festival in Colorado, Teen Truth Festival in California, The Accolade Competition in California and The Gasparilla Film Festival.

"Our mission is to help kids make a positive impact on the world one film at a time," Manley said.

The two-week summer program costs $375 per student, and the spring and fall programs cost $350.

Enrollment is still open for the spring session.

Nasya said the program prompted her interest in a job in the film industry. She counts "Jurassic Park," "Harry Potter" and "The Hunger Games" as some of her favorite movies,

"Very few people know what they want to do at a young age, but I'm lucky that because of this camp I found out what I want to do and can get started early," she said.

For more information, visit

Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.


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