Dayton’s Not Dead: Dayton area high schoolers’ passions for cinema continues to grow

Christian Gentry (left) and Max Kaplan (right) show off their camera equipment. Courtesy of Christian Gentry.

When they met, Dayton area filmmakers Christian Gentry and Max Kaplan were competitors. Nearly five years later, they have become the closest of collaborators. The 18-year-olds have worked on numerous films together, many of which have screened at a Dayton movie theater.

Gentry and Kaplan, both high schoolers, met at a film contest in 2014. Their partnership started when Gentry invited Kaplan to work on a skit together. Since then, the pair has produced an enormous body of work covering genres including comedy, thriller, action-adventure, and documentary.

“Both of us are pretty much co-directing, co-producing (and) co-writing almost everything we do together,” Gentry said.

Their latest project, “That’s Life,” premiered at on Wednesday, Feb. 13 at The Neon, an independent movie theater in Dayton. The short film is about an aging, out-of-touch musician trying to save his relationship with a woman he meets in the city.

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“That’s Life” is Gentry and Kaplan’s fifth film screened at The Neon. Gentry said he and Kaplan have received plenty encouragement from the theater and their community.

“Dayton has been really a good incubator for us as filmmakers, and we’ve found a lot of support here,” Gentry said. “(The Neon has) been really awesome and really supportive of us as local filmmakers.”

Gentry and Kaplan said they draw on various life experiences and mediums as inspiration for their films.

“Our whole lives are surrounded by stories,” Kaplan said. “Film is just the amalgamation of every type of storytelling ever created. All of these things kind of come together when a certain moment happens and then you start crafting a story in your mind and then that eventually becomes a film.”

The high school filmmakers have made huge strides in recent years. Gentry recently directed a feature-length documentary while Kaplan has worked as a production assistant and assistant director on several local features.

As the pair have evolved as filmmakers, so too have their filmmaking philosophies.

“I think that a film is supposed to reveal a little bit about the world. I think that you can maybe never see the whole truth at one time but maybe something can reveal a little slice of the truth,” Kaplan said. “My goal whenever I tell a story is to just try and reveal just a little bit of truth in somebody’s life, either through fiction or nonfiction. I hope their lives are better for it.”

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For Gentry, it’s more abstract.

“I really think that film is the greatest tool of manipulation,” Gentry said. “Anything can be manipulated with this art form in such a high degree that it can really make something interesting… That’s really powerful, I think.”

Gentry and Kaplan’s next film, “Fire and Fury,” is a “Twilight Zone-esque tale of police brutality in the South,” Kaplan said. They will begin working on the film this summer.

Outside filmmaking, Gentry and Kaplan have pursued careers in music and Media Marketing, respectively. Both plan to continue working in cinema – a world which Kaplan says he and Gentry have been “surrounded by” since they were early adolescents.

Neither have left that world since.