The Newton Public Schools are no stranger to national headlines.
Newton was ranked number three in Money Magazine's 2010 report, "Best Places to Live in America," a ranking that was aided by the schools' reputation. In Boston Magazine's 2010 list of the state's best public high schools, Newton North and South came in at ninth and tenth, respectively.
But what the headlines do not often spell out is the pressure students feel at the nationally-recognized schools.
Newton North alumni and filmmakers Rachel Cole and Nick Weiss-Richmond dramatize what can result from this intense pressure in their short fiction film, "Adam Underground," which had a sneak-preview screening at the new high school on Oct. 1.
The movie, filmed at the old Newton North High School on Lowell Avenue, centers on an underground, student-run homework cheating business operating out of the high school's basement and lead by a student named Adam.
In the bowels of the fictional Monroe High School, students are paid by their fellow students to churn out homework assignments at breakneck speed. A reporter for the high school newspaper threatens to publish a story about the homework cheating lab if Adam doesn't shut it down. Adam and his student employees could be expelled as a consequence.
Cole and Weiss-Richmond wrote the script and directed the film, which they have submitted to major film festivals such as Sundance and Tribeca. They hired professional crew and Screen Actor's Guild actors from New York, where they currently live, and brought them all to Boston.
The filmmakers collaborated with the Newton Schools Foundation, which made the project non-profit. In January, Cole and Weiss-Richmond became artists-in-residence at Newton North and established an innovative Student Apprenticeship program. Thirty-two student apprentices worked on the film as additional crew during the week of April vacation.
Roughly 150 students participated in the making of the film, Cole said, including acting as extras in crowd scenes.
The result of everyone's hard work culminated at the "Adam Underground" sneak preview screening at the new high school. This was the first event held in the new auditorium.
"It was wonderful that we christened the auditorium with a project made by Newton North alumni and students," said Vice Principal, Deborah Holman.
Tori Filler, program and development associate at the Newton Schools Foundation, estimated that approximately 350 community members, students, faculty and staff, including Principal Jennifer Price, attended the screening.
"We wanted the screening to commemorate the new auditorium and be a celebration," Cole said. "Apprentices, extras and families in the community needed to be acknowledged for their hard work."
Before the movie's screening, Cole, Weiss-Richmond and their crew gave a presentation and held a question and answer session.
Newton North students, Zuzia Weyman and Spencer Alton also screened their short documentary on the making of "Adam Underground."
The filmmakers hoped the screening would also be a fundraiser for the film, which was budgeted at $50,000. Tickets were originally priced at $15, but when some students balked at the price, student tickets were lowered to $10, Cole said.
"It takes money to make a film," Cole stated. "We felt that ticket prices were reasonable for an evening of celebration."
To date, the filmmakers need to raise $10,000 to pay monies still owed to crew for production as well as for payment for entry into festivals and marketing.
Now that students have moved into the new high school, the old school, which served as the backdrop for Monroe High School, is currently being demolished.
"Adam Underground" could end up being an elegy to the old Newton North. Dan Costello, principle of Costello Dismantling, the school's demolition contractor, expects demolition to be complete by March 2011.
"It made me sentimental to see the old building (in the film)," said Holman, who taught both Cole and Weiss-Richmond when they were Newton North students.
For more information about "Adam Underground" or to make a tax-deductable donation to the project visit the film's website, http://www.wewilldoyourhomework.com