Dissed by DISD: The Movie

This morning, an e-mail landed in my inbox containing a link to a short film by local moviemaker Israel Luna. (Go to the site, click on the About Us section, then go to the Everything & Nothing Page link to see the movie.) Luna's a well-respected director—winner of awards at local fests, maker of movies that actually get some DVD distribution and even a little coverage in national mags. But this particular movie, made on Saturday and making the Internet rounds today, hits particularly close to home: In the short, titled My Apology to DISD, Luna accuses a teacher at Thomas Jefferson High School and at least one Dallas Independent School District administrator of conspiring to get him fired from a summer-school job teaching film production. Though the movie plays like an arch, silly comedy, Thomas Jefferson administrators are taking it so seriously: When reached this morning, principal Manuel Ontiveros said he has reported the movie and its maker to DISD's attorneys. Though Ontiveros says he hasn't seen My Apology to DISD, he says "our teachers are pretty perturbed about it."

Of course, that's precisely what Luna wants: to make a stink. "I ain't scared of it," he says. "I ain't scared at all. Our executive producer's an attorney, and after I wrote the script I passed it by him, and after I made the movie I passed it by him, and both times he said, 'Don't worry, they can't touch you.'"

Luna says he was hired May 22 by Warren Dillon, a science teacher at T.J., and fired May 25, after "technology application" teacher Heather Hinds contacted Mattie Richardson, claiming that Luna's R-rated and occasionally gay-themed movies, among them the autobiographical and Deep Ellum Film Fest audience-award-winning The Deadbeat Club, made him an inappropriate instructor for high-school students. Richardson's a Ross Avenue administrator in charge of doling out the $9.2 million Texas 21st Century Community Learning Center grants the district received from the Texas Education Agency. Ontiveros said Luna had been brought in by an outside contractor "through the 21st Century grant, and when we found out what he had done, we didn't like his tastes." That was shortly before T.J.'s principal ended our conversation by abruptly hanging up the phone.

Luna says he was brought in by someone at TeCo Theatrical Productions, an arts-education organization, who informed him of the opening at T.J. (Teresa Wash, head of TeCo, was not in this morning when Unfair Park called its R.L. Thornton offices.) Luna says he met with Dillon—who, as Luna understood it, was in charge of the position—and explained to him he had made R-rated movies, which were readily available from his La Luna Entertainment Web site. Luna says Dillon said it was no big deal—these were high-school kids, after all, so it was "a non-issue," Luna says.

Then, he says, "on May 25 I got an e-mail saying, 'They took a look at the Web site and said no.' This was from a person who said, 'I don't want to lose my job, but Heather Hinds called Mattie Richardson, who looked at the site and said no.' They were panicking because the summer-school program was about to start, so they hired someone who started the same day, and his credentials were shooting video at his church."

Luna says rather than send bitter missives to DISD, he decided after several days to make a movie about his experiences with DISD—using, he says, students from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. "They said, 'Who cares if teachers are gay or they make R-rated movies?'" Luna says. "It's so stupid. I guess they think kids know nothing about any of that." The movie was shot on Saturday, edited on Sunday and Monday and went out to Luna's mailing list by Tuesday, which has been distributing the movie the old-fashioned way--one missive at a time. And today, apparently, it's in the hands of DISD officials who won't talk about the movie, but surely have plenty to say on the subject. Which is fine with its maker.

"I am not scared," he says. "I am ready." --Robert Wilonsky

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