NJ DISCOVER SPOTLIGHT: Meet STEPHANIE ANGEL from Angelight Films. An ‘Angel’ who gives Children with Brain Tumors the Opportunity to Shine by Co-creating Their Own Short Film. You need to READ this. By Calvin Schwartz May 23, 2018
An integral part of this story is how I met Stephanie. In keeping with the ‘film’ motif of the title, throw in my usual ‘cast of characters,’ synchronicity and a red Rutgers hat (branding), and a scene at the recent Garden State Film Festival in Asbury Park. Action was opening night gala cocktail party for filmmakers, actors, actresses, media and the usual suspects. Me in my Rutgers hat and camera doing my thing for Artist Nation TV, a division of NJ Discover. A woman walks over, initiates a conversation mentioning Angelight Films, the recipient of the 2018 Garden State Film Festival Broader Vision Award for Filmmaking Dedicated to the Greater Good. Synchronicity extant in that Stephanie walked over randomly, was featured recently by HoopLaHa for her work. The plot formed. I had to do an NJ Discover story.
Yesterday. Stephanie and I sat down and talked for nearly three hours. To prepare, I watched most of Angelight short films that the children with brain tumors co-created. It is their self-expression, determination and hope that Stephanie captures for them personally and for sharing and for posterity. The concept of giving, caring and working with these special children and families is ‘beyond words’; my highest praise statement.
To date she has done 12 films. Check the website and come back. www.angelightfilms.org
The energy for Angelight emanated when Stephanie’s sister Ilana, five, died of brain cancer. Stephanie was seven. In Ilana’s memory, her parents began the Children’s Brain Tumor Foundation. I asked her when the vision, that certain something arrived, to do this Angelight work. “Ilana’s birthday is April 10. It was on what would’ve been her sixth birthday that I lit a candle on a cupcake. Something spiritual happened. I felt my sister’s presence. Inspiration to do something meaningful was all there…. Years later, when speaking with the Children’s Brain Tumor Foundation social worker, I thought I wanted to make films for children with brain tumors, and then had the thought, no they need to make the films because we have so much to learn from their wisdom.”
An enormous amount of energy sat at the table with us while we talked. So much on my mind. I fired away. “What is the process of making a film with a child with a brain tumor?”
“First there is an initial meeting with the children; they must want to do this. There are three to four meetings developing the film idea and finally the locations…. Usually it is a one to three-day shoot…. The editing process can be a few months…. Ultimately leading to a private screening and finally the child gets the film.”
Stephanie mentioned one of her child filmmakers, Kyle, who created, “The Kyle Show” which I watched. Kyle poignantly said, “I do what I have to do everyday and get it done. I decided it’s (tumor) not coming back again.” My point in mentioning this is the observation how special, smart, introspective and upbeat all these children are. The content for all Angelight films is such that it should be watched by other children and adults for perspective on life as delivered by special children. Key word here; perspective. These films are a therapy. What blew me away, was when I asked about the children in the films. I tip-toed around the question, how they are doing today, as if I didn’t want to ask or hear the answer. I was afraid.
“All 12 of the children are still here today. I started in 2009.” My mind was spinning with realities, probabilities, exigencies and wonderment. Was this film project a kind of therapy in itself, instilling purpose, hope, vision, determination? Stephanie added, “The most fun part for me is there is no agenda. It’s what the children want to do on their own…. Not necessarily about their illness, but what they want to portray, express, imagine and convey.” I noted seeing children dancing, playing the piano, performing comedy, flying to Coney Island, volunteering in an animal shelter, playing sports.
I asked, “How do you find kids for the film project?” “Mostly through social workers at the Children’s Brain Tumor Foundation…. I focus on the positive and shift that focus to creating.”
I raised my voice, “Stop. Let’s talk about the rest of your career and how you arrived so competent, experienced.” “I’m a Script Supervisor on ‘The Blacklist’…. I did all of Season Three. I started this career as a freelance Script Supervisor in 2003…. I work with the director to make sure all actors say their lines correctly…. I am responsible for continuity, write up all notes for the director, work with hair and makeup for continuity, keep track, time the show, bring up issues and create time of day.” My wife, sitting next, absorbing, took a deep exclamation breath. The Blacklist is her favorite show. Stephanie has also worked on commercials and feature films. Her dream is to segue into directing as she does for Angelight.
She grew up in Scarsdale, Westchester and attended Muhlenberg College. It was there on a college rafting trip down the Lehigh River (I did the same rafting trip a few years go) where she met her husband.
“And what about funds, financing for Angelight?” “Newman’s Own gave us a grant. That’s Paul Newman’s food/charity. We exist on private donations.” Those reading this article, absorbing, caring, feeling, checking out the website, seeing the work done by Angelight, donations are a wonderful thing. Enough said.
Stephanie mentioned transitioning into directing and a recent project, ‘Better Together,’ a short film on bringing two generations together, working and teaching each other. Of course, I watched prior to writing this. Her directing is pure art, sensitive and engaging.
“How was Angelight born?” “The idea just came up to let kids make films…. Sometimes people would ask me how do I get through the shoot, isn’t it sad? But the children are so optimistic, they inspire me to stay positive and focus on creating.”
It was time to go light and fun. I asked, “Living or dead, who would you like to have dinner with?” I caught her off guard but wanted a certain touch to this article. “My sister, Ilana.”
“Five things in life that you can’t live without?” She smiled for a collection of amusing seconds. “Perspective, which is what Angelight gives me. Coffee. My family. My phone. My vision. In no particular order by the way.”
“Before I leave this earth, I won’t be satisfied until I ……………?” “Until Angelight films becomes all that it is meant to be. Reaches its full potential.” Then Stephanie suggested I see the Robin Williams movie, ‘What Dreams May Come’ which was precipitated by our back and forth, in between, bouncing around for three hours, comebacks, to segments on spirituality. We were replete with stories, some evoking goose-bumps, but probably not for further discussion herein.
Stephanie has been working on a book for a long time, called ‘Intumatic,’ a made-up term referring to when intuitions become automatic. Fascinating. I loved the idea. We both wanted to close “this script” with Angelight references. She proudly added, “Once I made ten films to see if it works, now I know it works and I want to expand it to its fullest potential.” The End.
Please check the website: www.angelightfilms.org