Halloween-themed film contest brings together young artists

by Michaela Ledoux | 10/28/14 3:14pm

Lights! Camera! Action! Murder? This Wednesday and Thursday, the Black Family Visual Arts Center will transform into a Halloween-themed red carpet venue to celebrate the third annual Community Access Television Halloween-o-thon.

The program allows middle school, high school and adult filmmakers to showcase their skills by creating five-minute thrillers over three weeks, for a horror film competition. This year, the films were inspired by Benjamin Franklin’s aphorism, “Three can keep a secret if two of them are dead,” CATV executive director Bob Franzoni said. For the first time, the Hopkins Center has partnered with CATV for the event.

The Loew Auditorium offers a larger and higher-quality theater to showcase the films, an exciting change from last year’s program, 12-year-old participant Aidan Moore, of Norwich, said.

The Hop hosted 30-minute workshops with participants to teach sound recording, cinematography, lighting and screenwriting techniques. Three Dartmouth student filmmakers from the student group Stories Growing Film taught the workshops.

“We wanted to bring something else to the partnership,” Dartmouth Film Society director Johanna Evans ’10 said of the incorporation of Stories Growing Films. “We wanted to provide something that was good for everybody.”

Each workshop explored more hands-on activities like acting out scenes from popular movies or practicing capturing different sounds, Hugh Sagona ’15 said. Sagona led a workshop on sound recording.

“It was fantastic,” Sagona said. “I never taught kids sound before — only my friends. It was nice working with kids because they were always excited and they always had interesting questions that I never thought of before.”

Moore, who attended all three workshops, said he learned about aspects of lighting and screenplays that he did not know before. His group used green screens and multi-cam clipping, techniques touched on in the workshops, in their film, he said.

Johari Ajwang, 12, of Hanover, said she was drawn to filmmaking by her experiences at CATV’s video camps and employed the skills she learned there in her film.

“I’ve always liked the idea of theater, but with film you can just do it again if you make a mistake,” she said. “Your product always comes out really nicely.”

Moore said he enjoyed working on the film with his friends, which allowed him to put energy into something other than his schoolwork. Moore’s film uses “the current fear of Ebola spreading” as its central plot line, he said.

“I just think it’s so much fun to make movies like the professionals do,” Moore said. “I think it’s amazing that humans have been able to figure out how to film things happening.”

Three years ago, CATV, a public access television station that holds five to six-week summer video camps for middle school kids, created the competition as a way to “follow through” with what they learned in the summer, Franzoni said.

The Hop joined the Halloween-o-thon through its Community Venture Initiative, which aims to involve community members in the performing arts, Hop publicity coordinator Rebecca Bailey said.

The Hop originally considered hosting a two-day “film slam,” which would call for teams conceiving and producing a film in 48 hours, Evans said.

However, after discovering CATV’s competition, organizers wanted to collaborate and enhance the competition with Dartmouth’s resources, Bailey said.

The competition has grown each year, starting with 14 teams, Franzoni said. He said that this year’s competition will feature 30 teams and 173 participants. The increasing accessibility of filmmaking technology has made the process much less daunting, Evans said. The film screenings will span two nights, the first for the middle school division and the second for the high school and adult division.

A film professor, film student and community member will judge the competition. Winners will receive cash prizes with other awards, like best actor, director and scream, given as well.

“This type of competition teaches kids that the tools to make a good film are at their fingertips,” Evans said. “It encourages kids to not just be consumers and watchers, but creators.”