by Dan McClelland
The first Adirondack Student Film Festival, dubbed “Beyond the Peaks,” generated some impressive student films among the 50 entries from seven different school districts across the Adirondack Park. Organizers called it “a red carpet event!”
That's what one of the student organizers, Grace Mitchell and her teacher, Wendy Cross, told the Rotarians during a recent lunch meeting at the Burgundy Steakhouse.
Wendy is a high school art teacher, who also teaches the film class.
The 50 entries came in seven categories: comedy, documentary, horror, drama, public service, “Made in the Adirondacks” and open.
The event was a sell-out at the Wild Center on May 10, with 165 tickets sold.
For those who couldn't attend but wanted to, the show is on Youtube. It runs over two and one-half hours, Miss Mitchell told the Rotarians and guests.
“Overall, I say it was a great success!” Her teacher agreed.
“It gave students here and in communities across the park a chance to speak and to get their ideas out there,” said Grace. “The films showed a lot of quality!”
She thought the Wild Center was a perfect venue, as it was shown off to many area visitors. The natural history museum's Flammer Theater was used to show the films. There was apparently live-streaming to screens in the Wild Center lobby too.
The films were limited to a minute, 30 seconds in length, according to the student. Films in the open category were unlimited in length, she added.
“As this was our very first time, we were pretty proud” of the entry and crowd numbers, explained Ms. Cross, her teacher.
“We had 19 in the open category.”
Grace explained the main judge of the films was an area film-maker, Evan Williams of Wilmington. He also shared a sample of his recent works.
There were volunteers from AdkAction, the non-profit organization that helped the student organizers host the show, and who were also judges. Among them was Superintendent of Schools Seth McGowan, a member of the organization's board.
The winners of each film category received $100 prizes.
There was also a $400 prize for the top film in the open category.
Cassandra Sipler of Tupper Lake, for her film on the life and photographs of photographer Kathleen Bigrow, won the first prize in the documentary class.
Tupper Arts is planning to screen Cassandra's piece several times this summer.
Ms. Cross said at the show the top three films in each of the seven categories were shown that evening to the audience.
There was much enthusiasm about the films in the “Made in the Adirondacks” category, where each film had to show “the essence of life we enjoy here” in the Adirondacks, according to the film club advisor.
Foreign exchange students at Newcomb School District made a very moving film about teen suicide, which some viewers found hard to watch.
The Newcomb school district, with its very low student enrollment each year, typically hosts many foreign exchange students. Of this year's eleven, seven participated in the film festival, according to Grace.
Ms. Cross said before the film festival, the student film-makers took part in two professional development sessions hosted by AdkAction where local teens and their teachers got to work with other students and faculty from other districts around the region.
“We all got to collaborate before we submitted our films” to the festival, she explained.
Most of the student film-makers were high school age, but there a couple of middle school-age students who honored from Wells, N.Y.
The organizers of the festival, according to Grace, hired a technical director from Plattsburgh to run the lights and the sounds and to synchronize the showing of the films.
The consultant was unable to attend at the last minute and student Molly Sullivan had to learn the job in 20 minutes and fill in, Grace said. “She did an amazing job, but it was scary!”
“Very scary,” Ms. Cross agreed.
Molly has the job already for next year, Grace announced.
Planning has already started for next year.
“Mr. McGowan and I will be meeting with several of our partners in August. Because we sold out and filled all seats, we may move it to Paul Smith's College next year” to accommodate a bigger crowd, the teacher told the Rotarians.
The show was open to the public and was free of charge.
“We had calls the week of the event from people wanting to come but we had to tell them we were all sold out,” Grace noted.
The two thought there may be an admission charged in the future, given the fact that people are charged when they go to the movies.
Any future charge may include the price of food served there, for which there was a charge this first time.
“Are there some really budding film-makers among us?” one lunch guest asked.
“A film festival like this is very beneficial for people- both those who want to take film very seriously and for those who just want to mess around with it,” Grace told the service club members.
She said they witnessed “a broad spectrum of talent” among the student participants.
“For me, the animation category,” saw some unpredicted judging, said Ms. Cross. She said Tupper Lake's Molly Sullivan is an old-style animator who draws individual frames like they do at Disney and puts her works together frame by frame. “She's amazing and learned this all on her own...super talented. I thought there's no way she won't win first place”
Unfortunately, Molly didn't even finish in the top three.
The film judged first was a compilation of photographs.
The teacher and student felt that in festivals like this viewers take the message of the film more seriously than the quality of the film or the technique.
“Another surprise for us, when we were promoting it, the tri-lakes area schools didn't submit,” the film advisor noted. “We were begging them,” Grace added.
Schools that did participate were Tupper Lake, Long Lake, Newcomb, Wells, Westport, West Canada near Utica and Salmon River.
“One reason we wanted to get Saranac Lake and Lake Placid to join was that it would generate a lot of local press,” Miss Mitchell explained.
Ms. Cross said she was recently contacted by a person from Cornell University who is running a ten-day camp for student film-makers this summer, so word has spread about the success of their recent event.
The high school building boasts a film studio in the Fred. C. Baker wing, which is a rare thing for a high school, Seth McGowan noted.
He said he would like to see greater advantage taken of that place. “We've had kids graduate from Tupper Lake without any experience in film or animation and go to compete with kids who have gone to college with these sorts of capabilities. Film and the visual arts are an important part of human expression...and it's a valid part of what schools should offer!”