Hebron High School Takes Home UIL Film State Title
Student-produced film “Pájaro” challenges societal expectations
March 29, 2019 — It was a Saturday morning on the first of December when a group of Hebron High School students arrived at the home of Kayla and Krista Kummerl. The sun wouldn’t be rising for another two hours, but the group needed to head north to Celina, TX. They hoped to catch the 7 a.m. sunrise, knowing the long shadows and soft, diffused glow of the morning light would best capture the look they wanted for their film. Little did the group know at the time, just three short months later, their nearly five-minute film would be taking home a state title.
Having advanced through several rounds and ultimately qualifying for the state finals, the entire cast and crew drove down to Austin for the University Interscholastic League (UIL) Young Filmmakers Festival. And, on March 5, 2019 at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Austin, Hebron High School walked away with the UIL Division II State Championship in Narrative Film for “Pájaro.” Not only was this the school’s first film state title, but it was also the directors’ first-ever submission to the festival.
But, how did "Pájaro" come to be?
Rewind a couple of years to Kayla and Krista’s sophomore year. The sisters heard about the UIL Film Festival and set a goal to send in a submission before they walked across the graduation stage in 2019. When their senior year arrived, the two realized their last opportunity to submit a film was upon them. There isn’t an established film organization at Hebron, so it was up to Kayla, Krista, fellow director Richard Ahn and their friends to produce the film entirely on their own. However, the idea for "Pajaro" stemmed from an array of emotions, which had bubbled to the surface during the college application process.
“When applying to colleges we often found ourselves feeling that our self-worth was dictated by what admissions counselors look at most: our GPA, rank, and transcript,” Krista said. “As students who thrive in the arts, it was difficult knowing that our extracurriculars would never be equally represented on applications. This was something we dealt with our entire high school careers, as we had to find a balance between school work and our passions in the arts.”
She added, “With our third director (Ahn) being a junior, not only was he experiencing the most rigorous year of high school, but he also was watching what we were going through as we confided in him and gave him advice for his own future.”
It was then that the directors knew the story they wanted to tell.
“Through 'Pájaro’s' story, we wanted to illustrate the same feeling of trying to live up to the standards of others then having the revelation that it is following your passions and ignoring societal expectations that truly sets you free,” Krista said.
For additional context, the film, which can be viewed on Vimeo, has the following description, “‘Pájaro’ is an experimental short film in which the themes of societal norms, staying inside the lines, and the fear of the unknown are challenged. Like a bird in a cage, we often let our notions dictate the paths we chose. This short film portrays the beauty in going beyond everything you have ever known.”
According to Ahn, the film’s entire process, from conception to exporting the final file, took three months. He described the preparation and editing as the most difficult parts of the project. The crew enlisted the help of Kayla and Krista’s father to build the box actress and senior, Caitlin Kresta, was trapped in. As for the editing portion, Ahn said he and the Kummerl sisters spent a significant amount of time going frame by frame in post-production.
“While it still isn’t perfect, I know that we worked as hard as we possibly could,” Ahn said, “and, at the end of the day, it isn’t the editing that makes 'Pájaro' extraordinary, but the message that we share to our audience.”
The filming of "Pájaro" took place over two days in Fall 2018. Since most of the cast and crew of the project are also a part of Hebron’s theatre department, they were busy rehearsing for the musical “Newsies,” meaning finding free time wasn’t exactly easy. The group managed to find two days that fit their schedules — November 11 and December 1. The November 11 shoot took place at Mr. Kummerl’s workplace, Texas Instruments, while the December 1 shoot took place in a field in Celina.
“We separated the shooting process into two parts,” Krista said. “The first part consisted of the shots that our actress was inside of the box. After filming the shot where Caitlin gets up after the light turns green we wrapped shooting for the first day.”
Kayla added, “On the second day, we moved outside to shoot the parts where Caitlin breaks down the walls and moves into the field. The second day shoot was definitely the more labor intensive of the two, but we were extremely grateful to have our friends come out on set to help us shoot.”
Because the film was entirely student produced, that also meant the film’s score was original and student-composed.
“I think the most interesting part of the process was watching our composer, Ben Roche, put the score together,” Ahn said. “Once we had a rough cut of the film, we would upload it to a private link on YouTube and send it to Ben so that he could match the music to the timing of the film. We also sent him samples of songs that had the same feeling and sound we were looking for in our score. Ben is an extremely talented composer and we were so grateful to have him bring our film to life with his score.”
As for the film’s title, the directors wanted it to come naturally and not force a title on the project. Pájaro, meaning “bird” in Spanish, eventually came to the forefront.
“When we finally finished the film, we decided we wanted the title to nod to our diverse backgrounds,” Kayla said. “The film industry often lacks proper representation and diversity of individuals, knowing this, we wanted our art to always come back to who we are and our own diverse backgrounds. We thought the perfect way of doing this was through the first thing people see in our film: the title.”
After submitting the film to the UIL, came the waiting process. Ahn said the group would ask Hebron theatre director and one of the film’s sponsors, Ryan Heitzman, when the next round of films would be announced.
“We had one goal in mind: to go to state,” Ahn said. “As a department who had never submitted to the UIL film festival, we didn’t know what to expect or how the whole process worked.”
As "Pájaro" continued to advance, Ahn said the group upped their standards and expectations.
“When we got to Austin and heard that they only announce the top three films at the award ceremony, we said, ‘OK, we’ll be happy if we make it into the top three,’” he said.
But when the awards portion of the festival began, the group had eyes solely on first place. Needless to say, they weren’t disappointed.
“When they announced our film we all went crazy,” Ahn said. “It was a surreal experience to have gone from just wanting to make it past the first round to winning first place.”
"Pájaro’s" accolades did not end with the UIL state win. The film was also accepted into the Texas High School Shorts section of South by Southwest’s (SXSW) acclaimed Film Festival program and premiered on March 9 at Rollins Theatre at the Long Center in Austin. In addition to the SXSW screenings, the film also took the top prize, “Best in Fest” at Boulder International Film Festival.
Perhaps an excerpt from Maya Angelou's poem "Caged Bird," which also accompanied the film’s submission, can best encapsulate "Pájaro."
“The caged bird sings / with a fearful trill / of things unknown / but longed for still / and his tune is heard / on the distant hill / for the caged bird / sings of freedom.”
Watch “Pájaro” here.
Directors: Kayla Kummerl (senior), Krista Kummerl (senior), Richard Ahn (junior)
Executive Producer: Kayla Kummerl, Krista Kummerl, Richard Ahn
Producer: Kayla Kummerl, Krista Kummerl, Richard Ahn
Screenwriter: Kayla Kummerl, Krista Kummerl, Richard Ahn
Cinematographer: Kayla Kummerl, Krista Kummerl, Richard Ahn
Editor: Kayla Kummerl, Krista Kummerl, Richard Ahn
Production Designer: Kayla Kummerl, Krista Kummerl, Richard Ahn
Sound Designer: Kayla Kummerl, Krista Kummerl, Richard Ahn
Music: Benjamin Roche (junior)
Principal Cast: Caitlin Kresta (senior)
Additional Credits: Set Design/Build: Steven Kummerl, Makeup/Props: Taylor Willis (senior), Hair/Set Crew: Courtney Carroll (Hebron graduate), Set Crew: Hannah Braddy (senior), Set Crew: Joseph Hoffman (senior), Set Crew: Remy Ammor (junior), Set Crew: Michelle Nguyen (senior)
Hebron Sponsors: Ryan Heitzman, Ramina Mirmortazavi, and Jami Sauls