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Lights, Camera, WYFF!

By Sarah Gruen (Sarah Gruen is a Senior at Weston High School and a member of the Westport Youth Film Festival’s Youth Board of Directors))

Westport Youth Film Festival Hits Downtown Bridgeport

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Festival Poster Designed by Ross Wollman, Youth Board of Directors and Sophomore at Weston High School
As June 2 draws near, the Westport Youth Film Festival Youth Board of Directors are working at full force to transform downtown Bridgeport into a full-scale hub for the upcoming Festival. Hundreds of moviemakers and moviegoers will be in attendance. The ninth annual Westport Youth Film festival, taking place at The Bijou Theatre, a historical location that is already garnering much excitement. Festival passes are currently being sold online for $10 for students and $25 for adults. They will also be available at the festival with an additional $5 charge per pass when purchased at the door. WYFF is a program of the Westport Arts Center.

“Our Festival is a day full of films, music, cutting edge filmmaking workshops, and panels with industry professionals. There is something for everyone— filmmakers and enthusiasts, families, adults and teens. The Westport Youth Film Festival is the don’t-miss event of the Season,” said Festival Director Evan Neidich. The Bijou Theatre is the oldest theatre of its kind in the United States. It was built over 100 years ago, and has since undergone massive renovations. It has become a landmark of downtown Bridgeport, and is the base for the Festival. “This vibrant and growing area is filled with restaurants, cool businesses, and plenty of other spots to hang out between film blocks or just explore,” said Outreach-Co Director Esme Douglas. Like Douglas, who is a senior at Choate Rosemary Hall, many members of the youth board are thrilled about the buzz that WYFF is getting from being in this prime location.

Alone Together, a Drama Directed by Ben Kadie (Bellevue, Washington)
Throughout the day, The Bijou Theatre will play host to seven film blocks, together screening over 75 films, all made by teen filmmakers. Over 200 submissions came from across the globe, from Fairfield County to Canada, England, Denmark, and Israel. Halle Martines, a filmmaker from Fairfield and member of the Youth Board, is particularly excited about seeing the various film styles and interacting with fellow directors. “As a filmmaker, there are a great variety of film styles and many unexpected delights. It’s amazing to see peoples’ personalities through film. The next Stephen Spielberg or Woody Allen could be in our midst.” All of the films have been carefully screened and selected by the WYFF student board and advisors and are mostly appropriate for all ages. The third film block (12:55 pm - 2:35 pm) is for mature audiences.

Freya, a Drama Directed by Pernille Elkjaer (Hvidovre, Denmark)
All films will be judged by experts in the field, including Missy Papageorge-Sonnenfield, who will be judging the Experimental Films. The founder of Company 3, Papageorge-Sonnenfield has contributed to films such as Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean (I, II, & III), and Alice in Wonderland. Papageorge has deep roots in Westport, her family once owning the well-loved Oscar’s Deli. Other judges include Tim Finn (Animation Judge), who teaches animation and animation history in Massachusetts, Tom Caldarone (Music Video Judge), a former head of MTV and current President of VH1, and Roxana Walker-Canton (Social Action Judge), who has worked on numerous documentary films. Many panelists and important people in the film industry will give advice to young filmmakers. “It’s all about networking. We have judges from the writer of Valentines Day and New Years Eve, several WYFF alumni who have created an impact on the industry already, and panelists that will provide information to budding filmmakers. You can interact and exchange information with really talented filmmakers,” said Development Director Michael Kalmans, a junior at Weston High School.

Film Still: What if a Word Was Worth 1,000 Pictures, an Experimental Film Directed by Katie Ehrlich (Studio City, CA)
Many other events will be taking place throughout the day, all within one block of the film screenings. Two Boots Pizza, located next-door to the theatre, is offering both food and a screening of the Civic Life Project Films at noon, a program “fostering civic participation through the use of documentary films conceived of, researched, directed, and produced entirely by high school students.” The “WYFF Lab,” which is half of a block down the street of the theatre, will host workshops throughout the day, including Film-Painting for Kids (10:00am), Direct Filmmaking (12:00pm), and Human Stop Motion Puppets (2:30). The “WYFF Lab” at 295 Fairfield Avenue, will also have two panels: “The Startup Film Generation Panel” at 5:15pm, led by Chris Casey, David Burnstein (two of the WYFF founders), and Brean Cunningham, and “It’s Never Whatever” at 6:30 pm, which is run by Jay Miles. The “WYFF Pop-Up Shop” at 303 Fairfield Avenue, will host t-shirt screen-printing workshops throughout the day, and Melt Market and Café will serve as the official WYFF Lounge, where filmmakers and movie buffs can discuss the festival selection. To entertain passers-by, The Bijou Square will host live bands all day, including Borrowed Glory, Chillingsworth, Cheeky, Clay Garner and other popular teen artists. The night will end with the awards ceremony at 8:15pm, which will award the best of each film category (Experimental, Comedy, Animation, Music Video, Documentary, Social Action, and Drama), as well as Audience choice and Best in Connecticut.

The Westport Youth Film Festival is run by and for the talented students around the world. For many, WYFF has provided an outlet for teens to find their voice through film. “WYFF helped me connect with people who share a same passion for filmmaking as I do. The actual festival itself provides a community of filmmakers, and I’m really excited to meet such influential and accomplished people,” said Halle Martines. There is no doubt that June 2 will be a filmmaker’s and moviegoer’s dream, and the countless effort of the students of WYFF will pay off. Evan Neidich, states, “Our mission is to provide young artists with a platform for their voices, and, in doing so, to foster the next generation of great filmmakers.” With the work WYFF has already accomplished and the platform the actual festival will provide, the Westport Youth Film Festival will do just that.

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