story & photo
by Christopher Annino
A few years ago, well loved Cutler Middle School coach and English teacher Terry Purcell passed away unexpectedly from cancer. He made a great impact on the students he taught, and his spirit lives on through them. Terry was best known for incorporating dramatic arts in his curriculum to make the material more appealing to the kids. Former students Jason and Peter Filardi, TV and movie screenwriters, and Pete Stone, literary agent, were devastated by the news of Terry’s passing. As a tribute to Terry, they joined with Peter’s wife, Claudia Grazioso, screenwriter, and took the initiative to do a student film festival. The festival evolved into the Cutler Academy Awards, with its “Terry” awards, and is now incorporated into the curriculum.
“Betsy Iiams and I take care of the writing part. Judi Karp gave a lot of help with the technology part of it, and many staff members starred in the movies. Staff members include Betsy Iiams, Neil Solar, Jon Woodman, Kim Grundy, Mark Sullivan, Craig Moody and Carol Wainwright, to name a few. Everyone in the building from faculty to administration to custodial staff are more than supportive,” said English teacher Linda Cady.
This year there was a great deal of help from New London filmmaker and screenwriter Nick Checker. He assisted with teaching the kids the proper way to write a script. Some sound equipment was donated by the Filardi brothers. Ben Berryman, Alec Asten, and Bill Hamell, members of the SECT Film Makers Association, taught the students how to take a script and adapt it to film.
“I think the event was a huge success this year. We had more movie and script submissions than ever. And the generosity of Bill Dougherty to allow us to show the movies at the Mystic Village Art Cinemas was incredible. I think the students gain a lot from writing and making films; writing a screenplay is not easy. It takes patience, planning, and of course execution. They learn how to write a character, and how that character starts and finishes. They also learn that making a film is a group effort. It takes a village. So collaboration with others is a skill they learn. And one of our big hopes is that new friends are made,” said Jason
“It’s an honor and joy to encourage the creative arts at Cutler Middle School in Terry Purcell’s name. We’re grateful to the administrators and teachers who support the program. They’re the ones who really make it happen. The festival sponsors and directors can inspire, but we can’t teach from three thousand miles away,” said Peter.