We Are L.A. Unified

Evelyn Seubert, who teaches film production and media at Cleveland High School, could sit at any cozy bar in Burbank and offer her own version of the Hollywood-is-hell story.
In the 1980s, she wrote a screenplay, and attempted to get it produced.
 
Interest from the actor Sam Waterson helped her secure an option from a production company. Evelyn did 18 rewrites over a decade, but the movie was never made.
 
During this ordeal, Evelyn was working for a production company. At a screening for one of the company’s films, she made a spontaneous decision that changed her life, and the lives of L.A. Unified students. She met a man named James Gleason, who talked about the joy he derived from teaching film at Pacoima Junior High School.
 
“A light went on in my head,” said Evelyn.
 
She started by mentoring at the school. That led to making a film with the students entitled “Common Bonds,” which was screened at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival. The film is about a unique alliance between a troubled teen doing community service at a home for senior citizens and a former blacklisted actor who unite to foil a scam artist preying on the residents.
Filmed on location at a retirement hotel in Arleta, the young crew formed quick alliances with many of the residents who had been in the industry.
 
Since 2000, Evelyn has been at Cleveland. One of her colleagues in the media studies department is James Gleason. Evelyn cites their professional partnership of more than 20 years as one of the smartest decisions of her life.
 
She found in James a visionary who wanted to help transform the film industry by starting with young people. He guided each student to discover his or her own voice and make films that explored important issues, such as eating disorders, the environment, and social justice. Many of the young members of the “Common Bonds” crew are working in the film industry today.
 
Evelyn was among 13 selected last month to receive the prestigious Kennedy Center-Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award. One of her former students, Quyen Nguyen Le, nominated her teacher for the award.
 
Evelyn was sitting in her small, crowded office with a student when she got the news. “I screamed,” she said.
 
The annual awards “celebrate the teaching profession, the important role of teachers in our society, and seek to inspire others to pursue this noble profession.” The award comes with a $10,000 prize. Evelyn put the money toward the International Youth Media Summit, which Cleveland’s TIME program founded in 2006.
 
The yearly Summit brings together students from all over the world and helped young people learn to work across cultures. The next one takes place this summer in Serbia; Evelyn and James will be bringing two of their filmmaking students from Cleveland.
 
This fall, Cleveland launches the Global Academy of Interdisciplinary Media Studies, further promoting Evelyn and James’ dream to use film as a means to bridge people, nations, and cultures.
 
By developing curriculum with the social studies teachers, they will be able to offer their students more of an in-depth look at the history and cultures of countries that will be partners in collaborative video projects.
 
In the 1970s, when Evelyn was an acting student at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, she asked a producer for advice on how to chart her progress. She recalled his words.
 
“Give yourself 10 years to become a great actress,” he said. “If in 10 years you don’t become a great actress, you’ll become a great person.”
Many current and former students at Cleveland would say that Evelyn made a prophet of this man.
 
-Thomas Waldman

To nominate a teacher, student, employee or volunteer, send an email to Thomas.Waldman@lausd.net or call 213-241-6766. To see more profiles on the Distirct's website, go to http://bit.ly/1Fp25bG
 
Photo: Teacher Evelyn Seubert (left); Sammy Qammouh, a junior year student at Cleveland (middle); and teacher James Gleason (right).