Sarah and Emma Bailin, eighteen-year-old identical twins, are the superstars of Arkansas's young-filmmakers world. Known as DoubleTroublets Productions or simply the Bailin twins, they have defined their lives by their devotion to the film world for the last seven years.
"I can't seem to separate myself from film now," says Emma, as she cuts her eyes over at her double.
"Yeah, I don't remember what we did before we turned eleven," Sarah says, "before we found film."
The twins, now seniors at Little Rock Central High School, got their first taste of filmmaking through the EAST program at Horace Mann Middle School. And after watching an indie film called Arkansas's Forgotten, the then-eleven year-old girls were hooked.
"I turned to Emma [after the film] and said 'We have to make a film as good as or better then this," Sarah says. Her dark eyes light up. I turn to her sister. Her expression - like their outfits of jeans, thin blue fleece pullovers, and Crocs - is eerily the same.
To date, they have made sixteen films - both live action and documentaries (and they are known for their documentaries) - to date and have racked up lots of awards. Their first film, Separate But Equal was a documentary about the desegregation of Arkansas. While they laugh about that first film and say how unprofessional it was, I am googly-eyed that these girls actually made a film, a real film, at such a young age.
Perhaps I shouldn't be. Aren't children painting beautiful pictures before they reach double-digits? Don't we see musical child prodigies on YouTube almost every week? Filmmaking is just as much an art form as painting or singing, and our culture is starting to support this.
"Film is a collaborative and ubiquitous art form," says Chad Terrell, film instructor at Conway High School West. "I want students to have a greater understanding and an aesthetic appreciation for the media-rich world in which we live."
Roughly five years ago, elective classes with an emphasis on film entered high-school curricula across Arkansas. Digital media production appeared in schools in larger cities such as Chicago and Manhattan around the turn of the century.
"The best schools are transforming themselves into 'digital age' schools," Milton Chen, executive director of the George Lucas Educational Foundation, which was founded by the creator of the Star Wars films, told the New York Times. "Kids these days are born digital, and school systems have to keep pace with them."
Along with this new curricula came film competitions and workshops targeting young filmmakers.
"Cameras are better and it's not so expensive to get software and equipment. This has really opened up [film] to a lot of students," says Casey Sanders, arts and culture producer at the Arkansas Educational Television Network and education and youth program director for the Little Rock Film Festival. "It's a cultural thing with the students. Kids just want to make movies - they're shooting a story."