CEPA’s Spotlight Studio producing podcast episode, short film for release in 2022

For Anna Claire Hathorn, a freshman at Pell City High School, SEM;COLON first began as a silent film shot on a cell phone. When she presented it to her peers, they were moved by the subject matter – a teen, struggling with depression, was torn by thoughts of taking her own life.

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic dramatically increased the required daily screen time for students, they were suffering from the isolation that comes from adapting to an increasingly digital world. According to Anna Claire, her intent behind the film was to shine a light on the current state of student mental health, and to make others aware of the internal issues she and her friends regularly face.

Anna Claire Hathorn, Pell City High student and head of Project SEM;COLON

“I had a gut feeling that I wanted to do something that affected the real world,” Anna Claire said. “Something that affects my age group is depression and suicide.”

CEPA’s Spotlight Studio program encouraged Anna Claire to convert her idea for a silent film into an episode for The Black Box by Spotlight Studio Podcast. 

“The first time I saw it, I was appreciative of the skill it took these students to create the film,” said Jeff Thompson, executive director at the Center for Education and Performing Arts. “But more than that, I was stunned by the bravery they’d exhibited in facing the subject directly.”

Last week, Anna Claire directed her friends as they recorded a dramatic podcast episode. The result is a deep, critical look inside the brain of a teen as she struggles with mounting pressures in her life.

Pell City High students record “SEM;COLON” a dramatic audio performance that will appear in The Black Box by Spotlight Studio Season 2

“Whenever I started, I didn’t realize how deep of a subject it was,” Anna Claire said. “But as I got more into the script, I realized how big this is. How deep and how emotional it can be for someone to go into a deep spiral and decide to end it all.

“When I was writing the ending, I was literally sobbing, and I realized this was something a lot of people could relate to on a personal level.”

The podcast episode of SEM;COLON is being edited, but Spotlight Studio is already working with Anna Claire to develop a film script. In 2021, Spotlight Studio produced its first short film, “Miss Christmas Business,” which was written and directed by Lacey Pierson, a member of the Saints in the Spotlight Drama Club at St. Clair County High School.

Miss Christmas Business was accepted into the Sidewalk International Film Festival in Birmingham in 2021 and screened for an audience during the event. CEPA intends to produce SEM;COLON this spring and submit it for the 2022 event.

The process of scripting and recording an audio performance and converting that script to film is one that will include several students from Pell City High School and beyond. The significant work involved creates a hands-on educational process that results in learning new skills for artistic content creation including writing, directing, filming and editing.

“At CEPA, our goal is to provide new, educational opportunities in the performing arts, and we are honored that Anna Claire is working with us to produce SEM;COLON,” Thompson said. “But personally, I salute the bravery of these students, and I sincerely hope that their work on this project is able to reach people in need of an empathetic voice in the fight against teen suicide.”

The podcast episode of SEM;COLON will be released in March 2022, and the film is expected to be complete by September. 

CEPA is supported through partnerships with Pell City Schools and the City of Pell City. Spotlight is supported annually by St. Clair County Schools, the Alabama State Council on the Arts. Local program sponsors include Hargray Communications, Trussell Funderburg Rea Bell and Furgerson and Goodgame Co

This year, CEPA also received additional funding to support the growth of Spotlight Studio through a State Council on the Arts Recovery Grant and from a South Arts Sustainability Grant. South Arts is an Atlanta-based nonprofit regional arts organization empowering artists, organizations, and communities, and increasing access to arts and culture.




WATCH: Miss Christmas Business, a Spotlight Studio Film