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Students at Arbutus Middle on the big screen April 13

By Julie Baughman, jbaughman@tribune.com

10:34 AM EDT, April 10, 2013

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Students from Arbutus Middle School will get a chance to see themselves on the big screen this week as the film "KiNestic: Learning to Fly" premieres April 13 at the Hollywood Movie Theater.

The featured film is a documentary chronicling the journey of seven middle school students as they built and raced a machine in the American Visionary Art Museum's annual Kinetic Sculpture Race last May.

Michael Guarraia, the science department chairman at the school, is the coach of Arbutus Middle's Kinetic Sculpture Race Team.

An engineer turned teacher, he is always looking for ways to combine his two talents. The annual sculpture race seemed like the perfect way to do so.

"It was something that I've always wanted to do," Guarraia said.

"'It looked like a really cool challenge," he said.

The race challenges participants to build a human-powered vehicle that doubles as an artistic sculpture. The sculpture must also be able to travel across land, water, mud and sand.

In August, 2011, Guarraia formed the Kinetic Sculpture Race Team at Arbutus Middle.

He and Arbutus seventh-graders Andrew Tayman and Shawn Handley, and eighth-graders Devin Popper, Austin Ripple, Emma Runge, Phoebe Thomas and Madison Tivvis began the process of planning what they would build and how they would build a machine to take part in the May 2012, race.

However, Guarraia thought there was more to the project than just building a bird's nest kinetic sculpture.

"If we could film from the very beginning, from us getting together starting in August thinking about it, to the actual race day in May, that would be really cool," he said.

He contacted University of Maryland, Baltimore County, whose campus is across Shelbourne from the school. That led to a connection with Deon Griffin, an Edgewood native then a junior film student.

Griffin, now a senior preparing to graduate in December, said he liked the idea of producing a documentary-style film on the process.

"It was a huge time commitment," said Griffin, who owns his own small production company called Donut Guy Productions.

"With a documentary, you have to write the script as you go along."

"Every day I would come to film, I would have to think of what's going to happen next, what might not happen next, because I have to make a story out of this," he said.

"It has to have a beginning, middle and end," Griffin said.

, After 10 months and more than 80 hours of footage, he was able to bring the tale to the screen.

"It was fun," Griffin said. "I just loved going there and seeing these kids learn. These kids are smart."

Once Griffin finished the trailer for the film in April 2012 and race day passed, Guarraia made it his goal to get the film shown in the area.

"He was like, 'I want to try and get this screened'," Griffin said.

"He's very eccentric," Griffin said of Guarraia."He goes big or he goes home.

"He said, 'I want a movie theater,' " Griffin said.

After a call to RC Theaters, the company that owns the Hollywood Theater, things started falling into place.

"They were really supportive and said, 'Yeah, let's do it," Guarraia said.

"I think it's so exciting," he said. "How empowering for these kids, to see themselves, literally, up on the big screen."

The students from last year's team, as well as members of this year's 20-person team will be present for the 3:30 p.m. showing Saturday at the Hollywood Theater on Oregon Avenue in Arbutus.

Tickets are $6 each.

Guarraia said he's trying to arrange a screening on UMBC's campus as well and hopes the film will grow in popularity, perhaps sparking future screenings.

"We don't know what's going to happen from there," he said.