Sophomore Isabel Atiyah has a passion for filmmaking that has taken her around the world.
But it’s at St. Andrew’s, she said, where she’s found a true community of aspiring filmmakers.
“It means the world to me that a big part of St. Andrew's culture surrounds the arts,” she said. “I feel like I've finally found the right school, with my kind of people, people who love the arts but are open to other things too.”
Atiyah has been making films since she was five years old and produced her first documentary at the age of 11.
In 2015, Atiyah filmed and produced a short documentary, “City of Refuge,” about her experience visiting the Zaatari Syrian Refugee Camp in Jordan as a guest of the United Nations. The film appeared in 12 festivals, including the prestigious Cleveland International Film Festival.
She was particularly moved by her time with Marwa, a young refugee who was the focus of the film. Marwa ultimately left the camp and returned home safely with her family to Syria, Atiyah said.
“It’s funny how you can only meet someone once and they stay with you forever,” she said. “I’m not Syrian, and no one in my family has had to be in a refugee camp, but the story still touched me.”
The experience would inspire a shift in her filmmaking, from documentaries to narrative films.
“I learned a lot about myself and the type of filmmaker I want to be,” she said. “I think documentaries are really great, but I would like to do something where I get to control the ending.”
When she started at St. Andrew’s this year, she hit the ground running with her first narrative film, “First Impressions,” an American high school take on Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”
“Before I finished the book, I realized that this was something I could pull off,” she said. “It’s such a good story that no one my age knew about, and I felt like I could really relate to it.”
She poured more than 200 hours into research for her 31-page script, in which Lizzy, a member of a theater tech crew, attempts to take over her school's struggling stage production of “Pride and Prejudice.”
Atiyah brought in actors from the Tryka Film Coalition and the British International School of Washington, but the cast and crew were mostly made up of St. Andrew’s students.
Leia Terrenzi ‘20, also in her first year at St. Andrew’s, worked as an assistant director and helped Atiyah see the possibilities at her new school.
“I didn’t have that (before),” Atiyah said. “That’s why I was so pleasantly surprised when Leia said she loved film. I was used to being the only person.”
“I’ve always been interested in film,” Terrenzi said. “When I heard Isabel was interested in film, I got so excited. This (has been) a huge learning experience for me. She’s an awesome person to work with.”
Atiyah said she is grateful to the school for supporting “First Impressions,” especially school administrators for allowing her to film in MacDonald Hall on the weekend.
“The whole community has really helped pushed this project forward,” Atiyah said. “I can't think of a teacher who hasn't asked me about the film and was very understanding with absences when I had to pick up and drop off equipment.”
Atiyah is now editing the film, which will be approximately 30 minutes long. She anticipates the film will be ready to premiere in April.