For proof of what a group of preteens can accomplish over two months of lunch breaks with the help of some popsicle sticks, a few light bulbs and a camera, see this year's Ottawa International Animation Festival.
One official selection, a stop-motion short film called The Bright, the Bad and the Ugly was written, shot and directed by a Grade 5 class at Grosvenor Wentworth Park School in Halifax. Their tale of the town of Squander, a tumbleweed-infested homestead populated by energy-wasting light bulbs, beat out more than 70 other entries from across the globe to win one of five spots in the high-school category.
Chris Robinson, the festival's artistic director, said they are the only grade-school class to ever win a spot in that category.
"The characters are made of light bulbs and it's a battle between the old light bulbs and the new energy efficient light bulbs," said Mr. Robinson, artistic director of the festival. "It's a funny film, it's cleverly done using stop motion … and there's a little bit of a social message there."
The film was made just over a year ago, when Andrew Stickings, a teacher at Grosvenor Wentworth Park, asked his class to make a film about energy conservation. The students came up with the plot of a high noon light-bulb shootout and corralled all their miniature cowboy hats, bandanas and popsicle sticks. One student brought in cowboy-boot stickers, another conscripted the help of his electrician father, and everyone was assigned homework to construct a building for the set.
"We had three tables: The middle table was the set, and people had to stand on the other ones and move the light-bulb characters about an inch, or maybe less, and take a picture," said Emma Knapp, 12, who built the town's stable out of cardboard and popsicle sticks. "It took a lot of pictures to shoot the whole thing."
A second saloon door had to be built to accommodate the girth of the light-bulb characters, and some of the scenes had to be shot multiple times because a stray finger, face or shadow got caught in the frame, but the students enjoyed the filming process. They remained in class during their lunch periods to get it done.
"When you have 23 kids glued to an idea, just trying to do the best they can, it doesn't take very long to get some really great stuff," said Mr. Stickings.
One of the teacher's proudest moments came when the students, determined to find the ideal name for a town that wastes electricity, thoroughly combed a thesaurus and settled on Squander.
He submitted the students' film to the Ottawa festival after it won a youth award at the Atlantic Film Festival.
Mr. Robinson, who viewed all the entries and made the selections, said that when he first watched the film he knew right away it was a top contender.
Generally in that category, the winners "are high-school aged, so this is pretty surprising," he said.