By MARY LEE
September 22, 2015 · 12:37 PM
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(L-R) Kaya Fox, Maya Willard-Stepan and Tao Werner will soon be traveling to Vancouver to see their film production Charlie screen at the Vancouver International Film Festival / Mary Lee

What began as a fun home schooling project designed to incorporate the course curriculum of three grade levels has quickly become somewhat of a sensation in the digital media world.

The project is a six minute stop motion film titled 'Charlie' about the legendary activist and comedian Charlie Chaplin, who revolutionized comedy by poking fun a his own shortcomings and turning them into something people can laugh about.

'Charlie' is the creation of three Cumberland residents enrolled in Parents in Education (PIE) that will make its way to the big screen at the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) early October.

Set to the voice of word artist and Canadian poet Shane Koyczan who gives an entirely new perspective on Charlie Chaplin, the film is nothing short of extraordinary. Extraordinary in its simplistic yet effective use of props - pencil and paper - and extraordinary because of the masterminds behind it all. Tao Werner, Maya Willard-Stepan and Kaya Fox are all of 15, 14 and 11 years old respectively.

The production had been submitted to the Cumberland Mountain Film Festival in the spring on the suggestion of a family friend, earning the prestigious People's Choice Award.

It then landed in the hands of Reel Youth, a not-for-profit, media empowerment project that supports youth and adults to create and distribute films about engaging issues.

'Charlie' made an impression among the 700 entries from 20 countries worldwide and has been selected as one of 19 films made by youth age 19 and younger to be screened at the Reel Youth Film Festival, part of VIFF.

Selection is made by a jury of peers affiliated with Reel Youth based on entertainment value, technical merit and the message the film portrays. The selected films for 2015 hail from Australia, Iran, USA, Kosovo, Latvia, India, Georgia, Ontario, North West Territories, and BC.

Its creators are still taken aback by what has happened since production began last winter.

"I haven't come to a reaction yet," shares Tao regarding his upcoming screening in Vancouver. "I'm more excited based on the fact that we made it this far by ourselves without any help."

"It's amazing how people are reacting," adds Maya. "I never expected this kind of support. "I am completely shocked that someone would want to show [Charlie] somewhere so important.

Unbeknownst at the time production on a film about Charlie Chaplin began, Tao, Maya and Kaya all sang on the album in which Charlie is recorded, Remembrance Year by Shane Koyczan & The Short Story Long. Corwin Fox, music producer, mixed and recorded the album and is father to Kaya Tao.

When the project first began none of the uncanny connections had yet come to fruition.

"We began without any real purpose, explains Tao. "We tried many different mediums including a biography and using puppets before deciding on stop motion."

It was Corwin Fox who put the kids onto Shane's storytelling rendition of Charlie and, over the course of six months, their creation began unfolding drawing after drawing.

"We dissected the song line by line, word by word to get a better concept of how to match the sketches, describes Maya. "We would brain storm and argue because the words all had a different meaning to each of us."

"Some days we would just think and never get any drawing done," adds Kaya.

Announcement that their film was selected for VIFF came at the beginning of September. To date, there has not been any third party endorsement including from Koyczan to spread the word of their success.

"Anyone who has ever helped so far is all under the age of 18," explains Maya.

"It's cool that it's getting out to the world and having an effect on people," notes Tao of the number of views they've reached since posting their production on YouTube in April.

Screenings of Charlie are October 1 and 4 at International Village #8 in Vancouver. More detailed information available at reelyouth.ca. Charlie is available now for viewing on YouTube - Charlie (Shane Koyczan & The Short Story Long).

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