In quarantine, film teacher re-creates movie moments for her students

Holt High School's Anne Russo finds new way to bring her love of film to her students

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Even from the confines of quarantine, a Lansing-area high school film teacher is connecting with her students through the magic of movies.

Anne Russo, who teaches Study of Film as Literature to juniors and seniors at Holt High School, has been dressing up as her favorite film characters and posting the pictures for her students in an online Google Classroom.

She's donned Michael Myers' mask, Indiana Jones' leather jacket and Charlie Chaplin's hat and mustache. She's dressed up as Pee-Wee Herman in "Pee Wee's Big Adventure," Wayne Campbell from "Wayne's World" and iconic characters from "The Breakfast Club," "Say Anything" and "101 Dalmations," all to continue to share her love of film with her students, whose school year was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's been a really positive part of the quarantine for me," says Russo, who has taught at Holt High for 20 years.

The project has also given her motivation while indulging her love of dressing up, and has kept her from going crazy in isolation. 

The response she's gotten from students has been equally positive.

Anne Russo as Indiana Jones.

"It’s a fun way to stay engaged," says Alex Penski, a student in Russo's class who is heading off to Michigan State in the fall. "It's a great way to keep our focus on the movies." 

Russo has taught film for 10 years at Holt High. She's been a lifelong fan of the movies— "The Wizard of Oz" is her all-time favorite flick — and she enjoys teaching her students to look at film in a way different than what they're used to.  

Anne Russo and her dog as Anita and Perdita in "101 Dalmations."

"In general, my mantra with the kids is that I'm not trying to ruin movies for them. I want them to notice things that they haven’t taken notice of before," says Russo, 42. "They leave the class and they appreciate things they never considered before sitting in a theater and watching a movie."

The curriculum is broken down by genre, with units tailored to early film, Hollywood, thrillers, based-on-a-true-story tales, genre movies and more.   

The class was in the middle of the thrillers unit when school was called off due to coronavirus on March 13. After a few days at home, Russo was inspired to bring out her Michael Myers mask and get creative for her students. 

"I figured, I’m going to have some fun with this," says Russo, who also teaches several English classes at the school. "The last semester has sucked for my students, so why don’t we try to make it fun?"

Most of the costumes and outfits she has in her house; she's always loved dressing up, and Halloween is her favorite holiday. 

She's employed her 12-year-old son and daughter, Wyatt and Waverly, as her camera crew to capture the shots. "They humor me," she says, with a laugh. And it's been a way for them to help break up the monotony of day-to-day life indoors as well. 

The pics are posted to the shared Google Classroom and students are encouraged to watch the films their teacher is reenacting. They're also invited to post their own pictures dressing up as characters from their own favorite movies, and compose a few sentences about why they chose that particular character.

Anne Russo as Lloyd Dobler in "Say Anything."

Penski is one of the students who participated in the assignment. He dressed up as Ash, Bruce Campbell's character from the "Evil Dead" films, as well as Fridge, Kevin Hart's character from the recent "Jumanji." 

"It helps us pay attention to those characters we enjoy, and to why we enjoy them," says Penski, who was a movie buff before taking Russo's course but has deepened his appreciation for film through her class. Russo's lessons "all come together to help us further understand movies," he says.

Since students like Penski are at home, "they have more time to watch a lot films they maybe haven't seen before," Russo says. As far as homework goes, it's not bad.

Russo has enough pictures in the can to continue posting through the end of the school year. 

This project has been an entertaining way to connect, but she misses her students.

"The kids are the absolute best part of the job," she says.

In Russo's movie, her students are the stars.