Film This! 2017 Arrives at the Reagan Library

Today’s guest blog from our summer volunteer Beatrice explores our annual documentary filmmaking workshop for high school students, called Film This!  This was the first of two Film This! sessions that the Reagan Library will be offering this summer. There are limited spots still available for Session B, July 24-28. For more information or to register, email


Last week, 10 high school students from California, and one all the way from North Carolina, made their way to the Reagan Library for a week of film-making. This is the fifth year of Film This!, a program that acts as a hyper-condensed movie masterclass. For five days, students are taught by veterans Eric and Sue van Hamersveld through both lectures and the real experience of creating a short historical documentary from start to finish. This year, actor and past Film This! award winner Atticus Shaffer returned to lend his expertise as a teaching assistant and voice director.

Instructor Eric van Hamersveld introducing the students’ films at a screening for friends and family on Friday.

“There are students who write to us, saying they learned more in our five-day class than they did in a semester of another film class,” Eric said. “It’s so great because it’s not just how to hold a camera or how to edit, but how to tell a story, how to ask critical questions.” Eric, an animator, and Sue, a graphic designer, guide students through the complete filmmaking process, from brainstorming ideas and titles to the final finishing touches of editing. As the week progressed, it was easy to see why students attested to learning so much at Film This! The mix of professional mentors and the resources to create historical documentaries creates an outstanding and one-of-a-kind learning experience.

This year, the students created films about a “Tough Decision” a United States President had to make, such as JFK responding to the Bay of Pigs Invasion or Reagan negotiating nuclear arms deals with Gorbachev. The Film This! participants were asked to use both footage and documents from the National Archives and at least one scene that they filmed themselves. The participants had a variety of interests, experience, and future plans within film-making. One thing didn’t vary, though: their enthusiasm. Whether getting into character as a depression-era youth or editing clips of FDR’s fireside chats, each student’s excitement was catching. It started high as soon as Eric stopped the first lecture and divide them into film-teams, and just continued to rise up to the film screening on Friday, where their finished movies were shown to each other, their families, and Reagan Library employees.

“Film This! made me want to go to film school. I was definitely interested in that before I came, but getting to do it for real let me see that I really love it,” said a returning participant. Another student saw it just as a fun way to spend a summer week. He said, on Friday, “I am so happy that I found out about Film This! I like taking pictures and stuff with my iPhone, but this week made me super excited to maybe do more film things in the future.”

Even Atticus Shaffer, a veteran film and television actor, values the lessons he learned during the Film This! program. As he’s beginning to move into directing, he said the Film This! program gave him both experience and material to show his voice and potential.

Each student film is made available online and entered into the Reagan Library Film Festival, which will take place this year on December 07, 2017. Student participants are invited back for the Film Festival, which includes a red carpet and awards for various categories. The teams behind the winning movies are then invited for VIP tours of Hollywood studios. To learn more about that experience, check out this blog post about last year’s Film Fest.

This was just the first of two Film This! sessions that the Reagan Library will be offering this summer. Session B is next week, July 24-28, and still has spots open. For more information or to register, email

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