National Film Festivals Await High School Student FilmmakersWednesday, October 15, 2008 By Drew Goldsmith
Maybe you’ve toyed around with iMovie. Maybe you’ve dabbled in animation. Maybe you’ve even uploaded a few original videos to YouTube. If so, it might be time to submit your next creative work to a bona fide film festival. Nearly a hundred film festivals around the country procure submissions from high school filmmakers, and the experience of submitting to, attending, and winning at a film festival can be formidable – and rewarding. A film festival is a public screening of selected films at one or more associated venues. Odds are, you’re familiar with the big name film festivals, such as Sundance, Cannes, and Toronto. But did you know that each year over 1000 film festivals are held around the world, lasting from one day to two weeks, and that many explicitly welcome submissions from high school filmmakers? High school filmmakers typically apply to film festivals through categories such as “Young Filmmaker,” “Youth Filmmaker,” “High School Student” or just “Student.” However, be aware that the category “Student” entails a broad swath of students, including those attaining graduate degrees at prestigious film institutes. Therefore, competition within generic “Student” categories is stiffer than within “High School” or “Youth” categories, which are usually limited to under age 18. The easiest way to locate film festivals with entry categories amenable to high school filmmakers is to use the online submission service, WithoutABox.com. A subsidiary of IMDB, WithoutABox services over 100,000 filmmakers in over 200 countries. The film submission features of WithoutABox enable filmmakers to set up master entry files (and online press kits), pay entry fees to film festivals online, and monitor film festivals’ receipt and review of their submitted films. Most valuable is WithoutABox’s search engine, which, for example, can identify all film festivals that host “High School Student” entry categories, as well as provide other critical details such as entry deadlines. The WithoutABox search engine can even ensure that your film’s qualities align with various criteria specified by each film festival (film length, genre, completion date, and the like). Although many of the film festivals that welcome high school filmmakers are accessible through WithoutABox, for those that aren’t, let Google be your friend. Searching for “young filmmaker” or “youth filmmaker” can identify another bounty of potential festivals. Moreover, it’s likely that at least a handful of film festivals are held each year in your geographical neighborhood. For example, within the state of Wisconsin, the Geneva Film Festival and the Milwaukee Spotlight Student Film Festival offer a “High School Film” competition; the Beloit International Film Festival and the Central Wisconsin Film Festival offer a “Student” competition, and the Wisconsin Film Festival offers a “Wisconsin Student Shorts” competition. Attending film festivals, even those at which your film is not being screened, provides opportunities to rub elbows with other independent filmmakers and develop a keener sense of the art of filmmaking. Of course, it’s even more thrilling to attend a film festival if your film is on the program (i.e., “being screened”). It’s hard to describe the rush of seeing your film projected in a spacious dark theater onto an official movie screen (particularly after months of staring at it on your computer monitor). At some film festivals, filmmakers are asked to “set up” their film – that is, tell the audience a bit about why or how they made their film – immediately prior to the film’s screening. Other festivals invite filmmakers to take part in audience Q&A sessions. And many film festivals have opening night festivities, including sneak peeks at professional titles. Closing night celebrations usually involve awards ceremonies, in which honors are bestowed on the top three or so films in each category of competition. Some awards are financial; others are simply plaques or trophies, but all are sweet. High school filmmakers should definitely avail themselves of the fruitful experience that film festivals present. Get those cameras rolling.