PRUDENCE ISLAND — When it came to determining a suitable audience for its students’ new film, the Prudence Island School wasn’t satisfied with the Motion Picture Association of America’s rating system.
So it came up with one of its own.
“The Defenders: An Island in Peril” is rated “AI” for “all islanders”: “Mainlanders require accompanying parent of adult guardian.”
No matter, as few “mainlanders” are expected to attend the “sold-out” world premiere at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 10, at Farnham Farm. “The Defenders,” an original production by students at Rhode Island’s last active one-room schoolhouse, is a movie made by islanders for islanders.
“They’re very island-centric,” said Glenn Young, an island police officer who helps students with filming and editing. “There are a lot of inside jokes that you’d have to be from the community to get. There’s a lot about island life, its history.”
The schoolhouse, which used to be part of the Portsmouth public school system before the nonprofit Prudence Island School Foundation took it over in 2009, now has nine students.
“When we first started the program we had one — well, one and a half because we also had a preschooler,” said Jen Young, Glenn’s wife. She’s in charge of secondary age kids at the school and is also the program director for the Foundation.
The film project started in 2010 when the Young’s daughter Raya, then 4, said she wanted to make a movie.
“I thought that meant we’d run around for an afternoon and play dress-up and I’d film it,” said Mr. Young. “Five months later she had completely re-done ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’ and played every character.”
The resulting two-hour musical looked so good that the Youngs decided to screen it as a fund-raiser for the Foundation. “We showed it at the Hope Brown Center and 50 people showed up,” said Mr. Young, adding that the event raised about $1,000 for the school.
The next year, Raya re-did “Once Upon a Mattress” and once again played all the characters. This time, however, the island community got involved.
“We included over 80 islanders as cameos or walk-on parts. Islanders packed two red-carpet showings, even dressing up for the occasion,” said Mr. Young, adding that the film raised about $3,000 for the school.
Became student project in 2012
Last year, the school decided to start producing a film as an annual student project. Their first film was “CSI-PI: Incident at Sand Point,” a buddy-cop whodunit involving the Prudence Island Police Department that featured a musical production and about 50 cameo appearances by islanders.
The project was incorporated into the school’s academic program; the elementary kids acted while the middle and high school students took on the writing, producing and directing. “They’re really learning every facet of production,” said Ms. Young.
This year’s film, “The Defenders: An Island in Peril,” is an entirely original production. “This was the first year they wrote it, storyboarded it and acted in it,” said Mr. Young, adding that many of the islanders took larger roles, including in musical numbers.
Although he was careful not to give too much of the plot away, Mr. Young said “Defenders” is about villains trying to take over Prudence Island.
“There’s a superhero squad known as as ‘The Defenders’ who are trying to keep everyone from evil,” he said. “Each of the characters is island-based. One of the villains is the ‘Tick-Flicker.’ Her power is that she flicks ticks at everyone.”
The Youngs think it’s the best film yet.
“I think it’s remarkable — very imaginative, and this year the kids had creative control of everything,” said Ms. Young, who said the dramatic action at the end is what impressed her the most. “There’s also way more special effects than in any other movie.”
Mr. Young has no prior filmmaking experience, although his small home home recording studio comes in handy. “We’re just learning as we go,” he said, noting that students are often naive about the limitations of low-budget filmmaking. “The kids will say, ‘You can make somebody climb the lighthouse, right?'”
“The Defenders” has about 25 to 30 cameos from islanders, as well as a “big secret,” said Mr. Young: A local celebrity will be making an appearance.
For that you’ll have to see the film yourself. Although there are no more seats available for the premiere Saturday night — red carpet attire is strongly suggested for this exclusive engagement — there will be two additional showings at 1 and 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 11. (To reserve a spot, contact Ms. Young at 401/683-5756 or or [email protected])
The screenings are free, but donations for the school are welcome. In addition, A $40 donation gets you a copy of the movie on DVD.
Watch a short trailer for “The Defenders” here: