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Spring Break Film Camp Provides Creative Outlet for Birmingham-Area Students

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Nearly 50 Jefferson County students participated in the third annual Dundrill Heights Spring Break Film Camp, last week at the YMCA Youth Center in downtown Birmingham. (Keisa Sharpe-Jefferson, For The Birmingham Times)

By Keisa Sharpe-Jefferson | For The Birmingham Times

Ready, set, action.

Nearly 50 Jefferson County students participated in the third annual Dundrill Heights Spring Break Film Camp, last week at the YMCA Youth Center in downtown Birmingham.

The film camp was brought to life by Valton Johnson, through his company Cinematic Creations, and was designed specifically for students during spring break.

“Kids are out of school and an idle mind is the devil’s workshop,” said the filmmaker. “So, we wanted to provide [students] a safe environment at the YMCA, and teach them all things film from screen writing, acting, ballet, poetry, dance …,” he said.

The camp is named for Johnson’s movie project titled “Dundrill Heights,” which follows the life of a conniving hotshot attorney which can be seen on both Tubi and Amazon Prime.

Johnson told students that “Dundrill” comes from his wife’s — LaCherie Price Johnson — family name.

Price Johnson assisted her husband at the camp.

“The expectation is that [students] will write their script, because they’re screenwriters; they will act out their scripts, because they’re learning acting; and then, they would shoot their own script and their movies,’ said Valton Johnson.

The sessions wrapped up Friday, March 29 with an awards ceremony for categories including best actor/actress, best writer and best cinematographer and words from one of its sponsors, Jefferson County Commissioner Sheila Tyson (D).

From left: LaCherie Price Johnson, actor/artist Javon Johnson (no relation) and LaCherie’s husband and filmmaker Valton Johnson. (Keisa Sharpe-Jefferson, For The Birmingham Times)

Tyson recognized actor and artist Javon Johnson (no relation to Valton and LaCherie), who plays the role of butler Richard Hallsen on Tyler Perry’s “The Oval.” Javon was on site working with students at the YMCA.

“I think this (camp) is a toolkit that can be spread out all over the world, and it will keep young people engaged and help them find their place in society,” said Tyson. “There’s great talent that comes out of the state of Alabama.”

Javon is an Anderson, South Carolina native (and very close friend of the late Chadwick Boseman, aka Black Panther), who said his path to his acting career wasn’t linear.

He attended South Carolina State University on a choir scholarship. But he answered the call to act while on campus. “There was a big theater building  next to the music department and the theatre building just kept calling me into it, and eventually I became a theatre major,” said Javon, who is married and father to 22-year-old twin boys and a 19-year-old daughter.

Not only does he work as an actor on-screen, but Javon refers to himself as an “artist” because he writes, directs, teaches and produces in addition to acting.

Local ballet instructor Rita Collins, was one of six instructors participating in the camp, which included her granddaughter. Collin said ballet is the gift that keeps on giving.

“I want students to know that the more skills you have … as in having been exposed to some things … the more marketable you are in the acting arena,” said Collins.

In addition to the spring break film camp, Valton Johnson said he and his team, hired by the Birmingham Board of Education, “did 11 film camps last year and touched 1,100 students.”

“We’re trying to make our students television ready because they didn’t know that they could simply be behind the camera and make a decent living, rather than standing behind a house selling dope,” he said.

Javon said he gives back to the students knowing he “didn’t have any of this growing up in Anderson, South Carolina. TV (acting) was an unimaginable world,” he said.

But the actor/artist added that he participates to give students a greater opportunity than what he had.

“Anytime you give young people a voice, it’s very important because a lot of times they don’t know how to say it or what they have to say.  I think this platform is set up to give them an opportunity to express themselves and tell the stories they want to tell. We never know how far this might take them. That’s why I’m here,” said Javon.

For more information on the Dundrill Heights Film Camp, visit www.cinematicreations.agency.