The film industry is big business in New Orleans these days, bringing top directors, famous actors and big-budget productions to the city. But quietly, and well behind the scenes, more local students are developing their own skills in filmmaking and storytelling through some innovative new programs reaching into New Orleans public schools.

“Film is a different way to express some of the issues, themes and concerns these students are experiencing in their lives,” says Luisa Dantas, a local filmmaker who guides one such program. “It’s a really exciting medium for them, a really engaging way for them to share their work and their experiences.”

Dantas teaches a course at Tulane University called Place-Based Storytelling in New Orleans, which is supported with funding through the university’s New Orleans Center for the Gulf South. Tulane students produce short films about New Orleans, and as part of the “service-learning” component of the course they mentor younger students in an after-school media program at the Joseph S. Clark Preparatory High School in the Tremé neighborhood and with Kids ReThink New Orleans Schools, a student-driven education group that works with an array of public schools across the city. Last year, these young students produced 22 films over two semesters, including one that has attracted national attention.

Splitting the Treme, a mini-documentary from the Clark high school students about the Interstate 10/Claiborne Avenue corridor, won a national film contest from the Congress for the New Urbanism, a planning group that has been advocating for the highway overpass to be removed.

The nonprofit New Orleans Video Access Center has been working with Dantas and Clark to develop an after-school video production club. The program resumes this fall, and it could grow from there, says NOVAC executive director Darcy McKinnon.

“What I’d like is the opportunity to offer a full digital storytelling program to students, with photography, film production, having them make web sites for their videos — really a comprehensive digital media program for public schools,” McKinnon says. “They’re learning teamwork, they’re writing scripts, they’re learning the technical aspects and using technology to create their projects. It can help them wherever else they go in their careers.”