The Children’s Media Project has been discovering and cultivating promising talent in the realm of filmmaking for the past 20 years, but until recently, a venue to showcase the labors of these up-and-coming filmmakers with the greater community has been absent. That void was filled with the first annual Reel Expressions Youth Film Festival in 2013. The official screening will take place Saturday, September 27 at Poughkeepsie’s historic Bardavon Opera House, where Vassar Repertory Dance Theatre has their annual show, with festivities beginning at 5 p.m. and ending at 8:30 p.m.
Reel Expressions exhibits the work of young filmmakers from around the world, with a focus on the work of local youth in a variety of genres and styles, including narrative, animation, experimental and documentary.
The night will begin with a reception including food and interactive media stations, where guests can get an insider look at filmmaking by trying their hand at activities such as making their own animations and learning how a green screen works.
The main screening of a selection of twelve short films, ranging from two to ten minutes in length, will follow. Youths aged 13 to 19 were eligible to enter, the youngest filmmaker featured in the festival being 13. The twelve featured films were chosen from over 100 submissions and come from as close as Poughkeepsie and as far as Liege, Belgium.
Ryan Sullivan, a former student of the Children’s Media Project, now acts as a director of youth programming and the executive producer of their professional branch, Production House. He’s been heavily involved in the planning and execution of Reel Expressions from its conception.
Sullivan has been particularly instrumental in the event’s production, and his work is critical to the event’s success. “It’s just like when you invite people to a party. You want to make sure people show up. I think that’s the greatest anxiety,” said Sullivan. Additionally, while producing what is considered a small festival involves less planning than a multi-day event, the task still presents its own unique challenges. “It’s a one night deal. All of the eggs are in one basket,” explains Sullivan. The staff at the Children’s Media Project, funders, and other parties involved in the festival’s production all put their careers on the line, hoping the risk will be worth their while.
Though his work may seem daunting, Sullivan is still able to find joy in his duties. “It’s fun to be a designer and having to start from the ground up.” As the primary designer for the event’s promotional materials, he’s designed flyers, logos and what has become the signature rabbit icon for the event. Sullivan has fun with his work indeed, but the seriousness of his task and his end goal continuously looms over him. “When you’re doing promotion, you want to bring your A-game,” he says.
The same standard of excellence goes for the youth competing in the festival. “One thing people don’t understand about film festivals,” said Sullivan, “is that if you’re putting one on as an organization that creates media, there is some pressure to be able to compete. It’s not guaranteed we will get into our own festival. You have to have certain standards.”
To meet these standards, the organization provides workshops that give youth the opportunity to produce a competitive piece. “They know that they’re here to produce high quality films. We see and they see that they’re capable of having to make things that are really really good,” says Sullivan.
One individual familiar with Reel Expressions’ competitive standards is Jack Palmiotti, a long time student at the Children’s Media Project and promising filmmaker. Palmiotti submitted to Reel Expressions for both the 2013 and 2014 festivals. In 2013, the film he directed and co-wrote, “No Justice for Clint Monroe,” will be shown. Palmiotti spoke to the experience of having his piece featured, remarking in an emailed statement, “Having my work shown in a large theater was such a great experience. So many people seeing my short film and liking it was very rewarding.” Palmiotti also produced a piece for this year’s festival, entitled “Juvenile.” While “Juvenile” didn’t make the cut this year, Palmiotti maintains a positive outlook and still plans on attending the festival to see the short films that are being shown. “A lot of the time, competition seems to be frowned upon in certain areas of the non-profit world, but I think that with something like this, the kids aren’t competing against their peers. They’re competing against other organizations, which I think is healthy,” Sullivan observed. Palmiotti shares Sullivan’s attitude towards competition, thinking of it as a motivator for personal achievement. Although his film did not make the cut, he mentions that he still had fun making the piece and is able to identify how he’s grown as a filmmaker.
As for the youth interested in making films who have not yet explored their passion, Sullivan hopes that the festival might compel them to do so. “I want youth to have a good time. I want them to be inspired. Even if one kid can seek us out or start making films or animations on their own, that would be amazing,” said Sullivan. He also hopes for the community to share in the joy of filmmaking and encourages people to make an evening of it. “I hope people have fun. It’s an event! You can dress up (or not), make some animations, and watch some cool shorts, all in one evening.” It’s a night where the media consumer not only has a chance to see some great quality films, but also can become an active part of the experience of film; a chance for young filmmakers and the greater community to come together, create and enjoy.