4 suburban students' film on toddler with cancer headed to NYC
South Elgin High seniors' work off to film festival in NYC
Four South Elgin High School seniors will get a chance to bask in New York City's limelight for producing a film about a Huntley boy born with a brain tumor.
The seven-minute film is a finalist in the All American High School Film Festival to be held Oct. 24 to 26 in New York City.
"We were not expecting it," said Cosette Teschke, 17, a senior at South Elgin High's BEACON Academy who led the production team of seniors Alex Sandoval, 16, of Bartlett and Jeff Schooler and Valentino Wilson, both 17 and from Bartlett.
"It's All About M.E." tells the story of 2-year-old Matthew Erickson's courageous battle with cancer. It will be screened at AMC Empire Theaters in Times Square.
The film is among roughly 300 finalists out of more than 1,000 films submitted in various categories by students in more than 45 states and 15 countries.
"I didn't really anticipate that we would be a finalist," said Ben Erickson, who teaches at the BEACON Academy for broadcasting and communication. "This film fest is a pretty big deal. The guy that put it together, Andrew Jenks, used to make films in high school. He's a pretty major talent now in the world of documentary films."
Erickson, who also is Matthew's father, was surprised by the film, which started out as an Advanced Placement English class assignment. One of Erickson's academy students conspired with his wife, Sue, to shoot the film in secrecy and kept it from him until the end of last school year.
"Even though you live the story, seeing it is a reminder of all the things that your child has been through, his brother and sister, and our family has been through," Erickson said. "It's a great way to document Matthew's journey with his battle with cancer. Hopefully, his story gives somebody else hope."
Erickson quietly entered the film into the festival over the summer without the students' knowledge after learning a new category had been included for documentaries telling stories about cancer. The films will be reviewed by a panel of celebrity judges, including Andrew Jenks, Kristen Stewart, Morgan Spurlock, Henry Winkler, and other notable people from the television and film industries.
The students will get to participate in a red carpet event and meet the judges at the end of the screenings.
"(The film) was a huge deal and it was really cool, but we didn't expect anything out of this project when we did it," said Teschke, who lives in unincorporated DuPage County near West Chicago.
The short film features interviews with Sue Erickson and Matthew's pediatric oncologist, Rishi Lulla, and it includes video and photographs from Matthew's journey with cancer.
Filming at Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago where Matthew is being treated was the hardest part of the project, Wilson said.
"We realized no matter how bad our situation is ... there's always someone out there who has it worse," he said. "These kids, they have it probably as rough as it comes, and they are still fighting, doing everything in their power to live. It was really humbling."
Schooler said he was moved by the interview with Sue Erickson.
"It got to me," Schooler said. "Her story was so profound that it really let me see that there are just some people in this world that can take on everything that life gives them, and they come out OK."
Matthew today is doing well, and though he hasn't been declared cancer-free, the tumorous growth in his brain is inactive and diminishing in size. "That is very encouraging," Erickson said.