Alabama High School Student Takes First at Film Festival

Creative abstract films, innovative experimental films and inspiring documentaries were featured in the theater auditorium at the Auburn University Hotel and Dixon Conference Center Thursday night.

The 13th Annual Jay Sanders Film Festival is an event in which the finalists in the Movie Gallery Student Film Competition are publicly presented and judged.

As the auditorium rapidly filled with more than 100 spectators, a universal hum echoed off the walls as people excitedly discussed their eagerness to watch the entries submitted months ago.

"So much work has gone into tonight's films from so many people around the country," said Deron Overpeck, assistant professor in radio, television and film. "This event takes all year to prepare, but things pick up around spring time when the time gets closer to entries being sent."

There were more than 40 film submissions, and, through the use of an intense two-staged selection process, the officers have to cut the number of films down to five or six, Overpeck said.

Within the first "capsule synopses" division, five entries were shown representing high school students' films from various states.

"We were looking for an emotional impact and we wanted to feel something to give it thought of it right off the top," said Michael Young, a judge of the festival. "I was amazed by the high school category. It was some of the best audio I have ever heard."

The colleges represented were Loyola Marymount University, Stanford University, San Francisco State University and Emerson College, with two student submissions.

After the films were revealed, the judges, Young along with Rick Pukis and Michele Schrieber, determined the winners.

"We liked them all, but we really liked Wellsburg," Schrieber said. "He did it differently with legos and went in a different direction."

The third place award and $250 went to "Dazed," a film about a performer preparing to go on stage, the second place award of $300 was given to "Fire in the Dark," a suspense about a teenager at home alone confronted by a robber, and the first place award of $500 was bestowed

upon "Wellsburg, Parts I, II and III," a love story about lost and forbidden romance between two Lego characters.

"The Wellsburg film was obviously inspired by silent films; he put a great new spin on it," Schreiber said. "It was unique and very well-done."

Corey Johnson, 16, drove more than three and a half hours with his mother to the festival from Scottsboro High School

in hopes of placing in the competition.

"I'm not sure if my film is first place worthy, but if I won it would make my town something more than just a little small city," Johnson said.

Johnson said he was surprised by the outcome. After making a YouTube page, he started the film after buying a new webcam and had never intended for it to be anything but a simple summer project.

"My parents can't stand having a Lego set on top of the printer for weeks at a time, but they've gotten used to it and they support my film making," Johnson said.

Within the college category, "The Cyclist" (Emerson) was awarded third place winning $250, "Ethereal Pondering of a Sightless Gaze" (Loyola Marymount University) was given $400 and "Close to Home," a touching documentary by students from Stanford University came in first place

with a $900 prize. The film revealed the toll taken on a family by the murder of a man's young son.

"'Close to Home' was incredibly real; they were very real people with perfectly real scenes," Young said. "It was very emotional. It touched me."

Pukis said he loved the overall style of the film.

"The imagery of black and white was interesting," Pukis said. "It was a story we could relate to but told in a very unique fashion."

After wrapping up the evening, Overpeck said everyone would need to get ready for the 2011 Jay Sanders Film Festival.

"Now that it's over we'll start preparing tomorrow for the next one," Overpeck said. "It takes a lot of time."

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