Spotlight on the Simulation

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More than ever, the annual election simulation is getting attention as alumna Alexandra Stergiou has returned to Townsend Harris to film an independent documentary on the schoolwide event.

According to the crew, Alexandra’s inspiration for the film comes from her “participation in the election simulation as a student, [as it] always resonated with her.” Co-directing with Alexandra is Lexi Henigman; the rest of their crew includes Director of Photography Joe Bender and Director of Sound Chris Schneider. They all express their amazement with the program.

Alexandra and her crew state, “We are inspired by the creativity, resourcefulness, and intelligence we witness every day at THHS. If the Election Simulation was offered at every high school in the country, we would have a more thoughtful and informed nation.”

They specifically admire the uniqueness of the simulation, along with the immense effort students put towards it. The filmmakers state that part of their reason for choosing to document this event is the wide range of learning opportunities that accompany it.

“[The simulation is an] educational program that offers students the unique opportunity to experience our political system before they are eligible to vote, [and] it also offers students opportunities to practice skills such as public speaking, speechwriting, and using audiovisual technology,” they said.

Discussing the expectations for their film, they continue, “We hope that this film will bring people together and inspire our audience to become more engaged citizens.”

This is the first year the THHS faculty is experiencing filming of the election simulation. With large cameras and microphones lingering around the classroom almost every day, teachers might be less than pleased at the intrusion. This isn’t the case when it comes to Government teachers Jaime Baranoff and Dr. Linda Steinmann, however.

Ms. Baranoff states, “I didn’t think it was an all-encompassing deal. I didn’t know they would be filming in my class all the time, but now I think it’s a really important story to be told, and I’m excited to see how it’s going to turn out.”

Dr. Steinmann, who is in charge of the simulation, is also particularly enthusiastic about the film. She has a personal connection with the documentary, seeing as Alexandra was in her 2006 Participatory Democracy class. When Alexandra approached her, Dr. Steinmann was “very excited” but also practical about the disruptions, making sure to tell the film crew to keep it “very low key.” According to Mrs. Baranoff, the filming is almost unnoticeable as the film crew encourages “a picture with no film crew there.”

Now that the documentary is in full effect, Dr. Steinmann says that “it has certainly raised the level of excitement in the major candidate classes. I wish the other classes had that opportunity as well.”

Although Dr. Steinmann remains mostly optimistic about the film, Mrs. Baranoff expresses some ambiguity regarding the progression of the film, pointing out an imbalance in the coverage of all the candidates. She comments, “I think it’ll give a behind-the-scenes look at the election simulation: the good, the bad, and the ugly. From my perspective, it’s hard for me to gauge what’s going to happen [since] they only film in one [of] my classes, and they’re only really focusing on Hillary and Schumer. I don’t know how they’re doing on the Republican side.”

Regarding the crew, senior Casey Ramos remarks, “During the Interest Rally I would be speaking and suddenly a furry mic would descend from behind me, which was funny but it added depth to the ‘acting’ role we play in the Election Simulation. It keeps us on our toes and I feel more in character when the cameras are around.”

“I think that having the film crew around for the election simulation is really exciting! The fact that they are making a film on this in the first place is pretty amazing. It really emphasizes how big of a part the Election Simulation plays in our school, as well as, how in depth our Election Simulation goes. Having the film crew around has certainly made the election feel much more official. I also feel that it gives the candidates an atmosphere that is even more relatable to the actual election,” says freshman Savannah Sclafani.

Sophomore Jacqueline Valenti adds, “I feel like candidates are really stepping up because of the film crew. I personally don’t mind the crew filming everything because it’s their job, and it’s interesting to see them around working on something that the THHS community is involved in.”

“I feel it’s a great way to put into perspective how strong of a tradition the Election Simulation is in our school and how candidates work hard. It just feels special to highlight what a special process this is,” adds freshman Kelvin Yip.

The Election Simulation candidates also have a lot to say about their participation in Alexandra’s documentary. Most of the candidates aren’t used to or comfortable with constantly being in front of the camera, but understand that this film will be beneficial to future election simulation participants.

Senior Misbah Pochi, who plays the role of Hillary Clinton, says, “I feel more pressured, as everything I say or do has potential to be recorded [or] filmed.” Senior Daniel Khaldarov states that he was “stressed” when he first discovered the making of the documentary. When it comes to the performance of their roles, Misbah and Daniel both agree that the cameras don’t influence them to act a certain way. They both try their best to play their roles to the best of their abilities, on and off-screen.

The release date of the film is not set as of now, but the crew hopes to complete it within the next year. Many students and teachers are looking forward to viewing and starring in the first Election Simulation documentary.