ConVal senior shines with top honor at statewide student film festival

·4 min read

Jul. 11—PETERBOROUGH — Fletcher Maggs started his filmmaking career by creating YouTube videos in middle school.

This grew into a passion for filmmaking after he took a photo and video course as a freshman at ConVal Regional High School in Peterborough.

"I realized that there were a lot more complexities and a genuine art form for what I was doing," said Maggs, who also studied filmmaking at the Region 14 Applied Technology Center, which has programs at ConVal, Conant High School in Jaffrey and Mascenic Regional High School in New Ipswich.

And recently, at the end of his senior year, Maggs won first place at the 2022 N.H. High School Short Film Festival for his seven-minute documentary "Everest to End Duchenne."

For Maggs, the film was deeply personal.

He met classmate Abe Dreher in 3rd grade at Peterborough Elementary School, and has gotten to know the rest of the Dreher family, including Abe's now 14-year-old brother Gus.

In 2009, Gus was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), a genetic mutation of the x chromosome that causes weakness in the muscles. While life expectancy for those with DMD is increasing into the early 30s, there is no known cure, according to the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Shortly after Gus' diagnosis, the Dreher family formed the Hope for Gus Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to raising money for research to find a cure for DMD.

Each year, the Dreher family and other volunteers travel to Nepal for the annual Everest to End Duchenne trek, a 17-day hike to the base camp of Mount Everest. Maggs' film of the same name, available for free on YouTube, follows this year's journey back in March, which raised $60,000 for the cause, according to a news release from the ConVal School District.

The trek, a tradition dating back to 2015, returned this year after being canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.

Maggs, who was already planning to participate in the hike, knew he wanted to document the trip. And after a speech from Gus' mother, Tonya, at the start of the trek, he said he was inspired to turn that footage into a short film.

Upon returning from Nepal, Maggs said he immediately went to work on his production. After about a month of editing, he submitted it to the statewide student film festival just an hour before the deadline.

Maggs said working on this film taught him the power of storytelling, an aspect of filmmaking that he previously undervalued.

"[I realized] I need to do more than just get the pretty shots and put a song to it and put that all together," he said. "But actually finding my ability to tell the story of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, I think [that's] what I really learned about myself."

"Everest to End Duchenne" won the Jury Award, the festival's top honor. It was one of 23 films selected for the festival out of 81 submissions, according to the news release. This year's festival, presented by the N.H. Film Bureau, was held at Chunky's in Manchester in May.

Among the films selected for the festival were the works of two other ConVal students. Recent graduate Caitlyn Witt and rising junior Jennifer Hopkins were featured for their films "Second Chance Ranch" and "Storrs Hill," respectively.

Each year, the Jury Award recipient is presented a trophy that lists previous winners, dating back to the festival's inaugural year in 2008. The winning school can display the trophy for the year, according to the festival's website.

The trophy is now on display in ConVal Regional High School's atrium, the district's news release states.

Maggs said his first phone call after winning the award in May was to the Dreher family.

"A big reason why I did this is because I've known not just the Dreher family but Gus for a really long time, and that's really what it meant, is to do it for Gus," he said.

After graduating this spring from ConVal, Maggs said he plans on taking a gap year, having deferred his acceptance to York University in Toronto to continue studying filmmaking.

In the meantime, he said he plans to travel and work on films independently.

"I still am learning so much of [filmmaking]," Maggs said, "and have a lot to learn."

Caitlin Howard can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1441, or choward@keenesentinel.com.