With the help of some Madison Police officers, Madison Central High School junior Julia Dent, right, films a scene for her film “Smile” that will be presented in New York this month.
With the help of some Madison Police officers, Madison Central High School junior Julia Dent, right, films a scene for her film “Smile” that will be presented in New York this month.

A Madison Central student will present her film “Smile” to a film festival in New York in October.

MCHS Junior Julia Dent is the writer, director and producer of a student film that clocks in at just over 11 minutes, but tackles some surprisingly difficult topics including revenge, mental health, substance abuse and suicide.

“‘Smile’ is about a young sociopath who feels betrayed by her perceived boyfriend and takes revenge,” Dent said. “The film is for mature audiences only as it contains adult themes, drugs and alcohol, language, and violence.”


Dent said she is happy with the final product, which has been gestating for some time.

“I have been wanting to make this movie since last August,” Dent said. “I tried in April again and it took a while but once we started it went really fast.”

The young filmmaker and her crew, often just herself, a family member and the actors, worked tirelessly on the film for three weeks and then took another month to edit. All in all, Dent says she did ten or more hours of research to make this film a reality.

Her mom, Jill, said she and her husband Bob were impressed by the community support she received.

“We were thinking, who we could ask for certain things like locations, and then we got the police department on board and one of the officers even came and shot some scenes in our home on his own time. He really didn’t have to do that,” Jill said.

Sgt. Micah Taylor and Officer William Davis with the Madison Police Department play police officers in the film.

The cast includes a host of Mississippi actors, both amateurs and aspiring professionals. She also benefited from the knowledge and resources of the Mississippi Film Office, and the multimedia program at Madison Central. 

Her short was directly supported by the Mississippi Film Office, actor Artrial Clark, CC’s Coffee House, Rich Grain Distilling, the Haydel family, Madison Police Department, Y101 DJ Nate West and Tammy Nutt of Century21 Massell & Associates.

After completion, Malco Grandview Theater hosted a showing of the movie.

The film has been, or will be, submitted to several film festivals this year. 

So far, she has been selected as the only Mississippi high school student this year to have a dramatic short film accepted to the All American High School Film Festival in New York. In two weeks, Julia will travel to New York City for the festival. 

She was also just nominated as the “Best Young Filmmaker” in August at the International Film Festival of Los Angeles. This placed her in the top 5 in this category at this festival. 

She has also submitted to festivals in Mississippi and Texas, which will be announced in the future. Once the festival season concludes in June of 2020, Dent plans to make her short available online.

Dent said she was not bothered by attacking such mature themes. She said her influences included the television series Breaking Bad, which she watched with her father, and the music of Billie Eilish, particularly her the single from her 2017 album Don’t Smile at Me, “Bellyache.” 

“My parents didn’t really care,” Dent said. “They told me to make the movie I wanted. I blame the movie on my dad. We watch a lot of gory stuff together like Breaking Bad and the Walking Dead.”

Her mother said she was initially surprised by the subject matter. “I thought she was sheltered,” Jill said with a laugh.

She said she quickly came around to the material after watching her daughters passion for the project. “It was so interesting to watch her develop as a writer,” Jill said. “She was really brave with her daddy a couple of times. She would ask us for input but would ultimately do what she thought was best.”

Bob Dent said that they were glad to offer input but were also happy to let their daughter figure it out on her own.

“We really wanted to let her tell her story as she envisioned it,” he said. “We helped with some continuity things but otherwise we weren’t going to interrupt her artistic process.” 

The young filmmaker is one of David Cress’ students in the Academy of Multimedia & Communications program at Madison Central High School. 

Her career began in the High Tech Video Production program in 2017. Since that time, she has created commercials for the Mississippi Early Childhood Education Conference and Mississippi Public Broadcasting, filmed a music video for singer/songwriter Amelia Haydel, who is also a student in the program.

“Julia Dent has been a student in the Academy of Multimedia & Communications for the past three years,” Cress said. “She is an amazing student. She is motivated and extremely talented. Her production of the film Smile was her first attempt to create a complete film from start to finish on her own. It is very impressive.”

The program teaches students how to edit using industry-standard tools, to develop stories, and to film various projects. Julia said that she is grateful for the experience and opportunities the program has provided.

In the meantime, Dent is writing several scripts to either submit or sell and is planning her next big project - a feature-length student film.

“I am really just brainstorming right now,” Dent said. “I am trying to think of something I want to do for a feature next year.”

Follow Julia’s progress on Instagram. @juliasnoodlefilms.