May 8, 2003
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A still from ‘A Boy’s Best Friend,’ by YSHS senior John Poortinga. The film is one of 24 works that will be shown at the Sundog Regional Film Festival Saturday, May 10, 2 p.m., at the Little Art Theatre.

A film festival for local and area youth—
Aiming to see names on big screen
Sundance may have Robert Redford, but Sundog has Yellow Springs High School media arts teacher Melina Elum and 62 young videographers waiting to see their names on the big screen. But first they hope to see them on the Little Art Theatre’s screen this Saturday when the Sundog Regional Film Festival shows the winning short videos in this year’s inaugural competition.
The contest’s public adjudication, which was held last Saturday in the Yellow Springs High School library, was brimming with technologically sophisticated work using powerful images to tell stories and elicit emotions. Boys harassing a flock of Canadian geese in a grocery store parking lot at night became the focus of “Supermarket Fiasco,” a hulaballistic submission by YSHS senior John Poortinga. A whitewashed image of a young boy running in slow motion away from the screen and from something hurtful, emotes an unsettling pain in “Exit,” by McKinney School student Mori Rothman. Digital manipulation allows Terry Martin, from Stivers School for the Arts, to frame three consecutive images of an adolescent addict and visually show the discord created in his life.
Local filmmaker Steven Bognar and two curators from Ohio State University’s Wexner Center for the Arts, David Filipi and Jennifer Lange, viewed 61 works by students from Yellow Springs and nine other area high schools. Between each film, which were five minutes or less, the judges provided feedback to the young filmmaker wringing his or her hands in nervous anticipation.
Balancing encouraging comments with constructive advice, judges praised one student’s abstract piece as “evocative stuff” with “fantastic images” that could have communicated more “intentionality” with better editing. The judges responded to a promotional piece for a school play by saying it displayed an effective use of images but that the camera work was “swimmy” and that the narration could be incorporated more smoothly.
“To hear your work judged is a prelude to the real world, and it’s painful in a really healthy way,” Bognar said after the judging. “Open critique is one of the best ways to grow.”
Many of the students came to have their work critiqued and to watch other students’ films.
“It was very helpful having people who really know what they’re talking about,” said Poortinga, who grew up making animated videos with action figures. He submitted three pieces, the maximum allowed from one person in the competition.
After a long day of searching through every student’s film for the best form and content, the judges picked 24 films that will be screened for the public Saturday, May 10, at 2 p.m. The award for first place is $200, second place is $100, and third place nets $75, while six films will receive a judges’ award of $50, and the other 15 will receive honorable mention prizes. The winners will be announced at the screening.
“I was really surprised with the overall quality of the things that were submitted,” Filipi said. “So many showed a very high level of skill, it was astounding and really quite a pleasure to watch them.”
Part of the competition’s goal to raise the bar on the quality of media production by area youth corresponds with a Raise the Bar technology grant the McKinney School received in 1999, Elum said. In order to commingle local talent with area youth interested in communication technology and to further support the YSHS and McKinney video program, local resident Kitt Lurie procured a $3,500 grant from the Yellow Springs Endowment for Education and several local businesses to sponsor a film contest.
The public critique accomplished that end by drawing students from a wide area to share their creative projects with each other.
“Having a contest where kids from different schools are seeing new and amazing ways to make their work and seeing that it’s their peers across town doing it, these are two very important elements,” Bognar said. “That’s what this competition is doing, and I saw that palpably in the room.”
The judges also said that they were impressed with and most affected by the risks the artists took in creating personal films about issues youth face today. A video dealing with the subject of rape showed a woman dressed in a prom gown running through dead leaves and falling down in tears just as a white cotton nightgown floats by, and is lost forever.
But the risk young people seem willing to take in investing in these difficult projects is in danger of being stifled for lack of public exposure, Bognar said.
“We live in a weird contradictory time where the technology to make media cheaper enables people to edit their movies at a coffee shop, yet what’s available to us on TV is more and more narrow in its vision,” he said. “The potential diversity of this technology is at serious risk of not getting seen.”
Sundog is a move in the opposite direction, and the youth that participate now may later demand that their voices be heard.
Poortinga for one is already hooked. He plans to major in video or film production when he goes to college next year. He said that he was drawn to media arts when he found he didn’t have to be able to draw in order to express himself creatively. He also likes to influence others, just as leaders do.
“I’m attracted to try to be able to express my ideas and be able to affect people’s emotions in a meaningful way,” he said.
If Sundog is successful this year, organizers would like to make it an annual event.
“We might expand it, and we’ll need at least as much funding as this year, if not more, and we may need a bigger place to show it,” Elum said.

—Lauren Heaton