The Austin Chronicle

Road Movies

Lisa McWilliams' Mobile Film School

By C. Amber Pearce, March 9, 2007, Screens

The Austin-based Mobile Film School, founded by Lisa McWilliams, launched its pilot program in partnership with the Manor Independent School District during late February. While others took the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test, seven Manor students participated in the weeklong, total-immersion filmmaking workshop breakfasting together at 7am and finishing up at 9pm each night.

The Mobile Film School is in the process of refurbishing an Airstream trailer to stock with film equipment and take to the Texas roads. Each small-town stop will provide 15 participants – students and/or community members – with a week of hands-on experience making films, the only requirement being that the film must involve a story about the community.

"I like to disabuse people of the notion that this is an inaccessible industry," McWilliams says. Not only will the workshop allow opportunity to those who might not receive it otherwise, but it also allows for more rural stories to be told in an industry monopolized with city stories.

The pilot headquarters was a Manor classroom where students grouped around computers piecing together a documentary. They wrote, directed, and edited the short film "A Place Like This," about an old pioneer farmhouse on 80 acres in their community called Quicksand Farm. Jim Lutz purchased the fixer-upper in 1977 as a place to raise his family. It has since been the site for many events, notably as a set during shooting for What's Eating Gilbert Grape. Plans for a sewage plant and a school stadium built next door are in the works. "The news people don't like to talk about how Manor is being destroyed, but we all know," says 17-year-old Kayla. "It's a Manor icon. The point of this documentary is to let people know this house is still there. Don't let this legend die."

The student documentary can be seen at, where program updates can also be found. The Mobile Film School hosts an event for SXSW Film 07 attendees at the Speakeasy on Saturday, March 10, 6-8pm to celebrate the completion of its first workshop.

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