Tomorrow me and five other judges will spend a good chunk of our Saturday watching and evaluating the DVDs submitted for the Josiah Youth Media Festival. One of the judges (who will remain nameless) asked if alcohol was allowed. And another judge (also protected by my discretion) was quick with a reply. “Well, all the judges are above drinking age ….” I assured them that there were some wonderful and engaging pieces. I had already previewed every submission. And it's true. There's some great work being produced by kids 21 and under.
I've already spoken with one reporter about the festival. And I have an appointment with another on Monday. It's weird doing phone interviews. I've given a few before, and because when someone from the press gets you on the phone, it seems to me that the wisest course of action is to give them something then and there. I would rather be seated with loads of notes spread out around me, but that's not how things usually work. Thursday I got a call on my cell from a reporter. I was standing in the lobby of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center's theater. They were holding rehearsals, and so I retreated outside. The noon-time traffic was fairly noisy, but I did my best. And then there was an interview I did for the Meet the Maker Film Series. The call came just as I had finished pouring a cup of coffee in my kitchen. And because I knew the info about the two filmmakers I was promoting inside and out, I was able enjoy my coffee as well as the interview. (Although I'm sure the guy on the other end of the phone must have been cringing at my gassy blathering.) And then there was a phone interview I did for a story on the Short Ends Project — it was a perfect San Antonio moment. I was heading home (probably from Pete or Alston's), and as I cruised through downtown, the phone began to beep. I was in mid-pontification as I rolled past the Alamo.
Today I was roaming the aisles of OfficeDepot looking for “neck badges.” At least that's what their website calls them. We need some ID badges for the festival so that the filmmakers as well as the staff can feel important (and move about unimpeded). I thought they'd be pretty cheap. But when you want a hundred plus of most anything, the cost begins to add up. I bought a bunch of the plastic pouches, but the neck cords with the swivel hooks or the hinged clippers seem really steep. I even looked for some wholesale prices on-line. Same story. I guess it's time to get creative.
As I was driving back, this guy in the lane beside me began waving. It was Bryan Ramirez, one of my favorite local filmmakers. He lives in my neighborhood, but I hadn't seen him in a couple of months. I rolled down my window, and, for the duration of a red light, we had a quick chat. His wife Amanda gave birth, I believe just yesterday. They have a brand new daughter. Congratulations Bryan and Amanda!
This morning I brewed up three pots of coffee and filled up the big airpot coffee urn (a cast-off from the Aldredge Book Store). After a pit-stop at El Sol bakery for an assortment of pan dolce, I headed down S. Presa to Urban-15. I met George at nine, and we began setting up the large upstairs performance space as a screening room for the judging of about 45 student films for the Josiah Youth Media Festival. By ten we had everything set up. All six judges had arrived.
A preliminary round had cut fifty percent of the submissions, so we were watching the best of the crop.
A little over four and a half hours of material. It's really some extraordinary stuff. The categories were “narrative,” “documentary,” and “experimental.” Within these categories we had maybe five animated pieces (yes, we even had an excellent documentary with a good chunk of animation within it). The distribution of the three categories leans perhaps more strongly towards narrative, but we have a solid offering from all three.
I think all the judges agreed that the documentaries were the more powerful. We wondered if that was because the filmmakers, all quite young, had not amassed enough life experiences to create clear, sophisticated narratives.
Just to give a glimpse of themes dealt with in the documentary division (pulled at random from my memory), we had: a piece from a young woman who had traveled to South Africa with her camera and put together an excellent doc on apartheid; a piece about a woman who escaped from WWII-era Dresden; the stories of a man and his wife who traveled from Laos to America; life on a Native American reservation in Minnesota; Jehovah's Witness persecuted by the Nazis; a strong great piece about a farm house near Austin (and the family who owns it) which had been featured in What's Eating Gilbert Grape, as well as the Simple Life; and, well, there are just so many great videos.
But it's not just docs. So many of the narratives and experimental pieces also stand out.
I'm hoping we'll have a good turnout for the festival. I know people can often be dismissive of any film event featuring works labeled “student” or “youth.” But so much of what we viewed today can stand up against work done by adults with, supposedly, more experience.
There's a full moon out tonight which is heart-breaking in it's beauty. This is when I have to stand down from my gushing praise of my little digital point-and-shoot camera. Film is where these exquisite low-light tableaux really come to life. I need a good, long exposure. I'm pretty sure my GL2 camcorder wouldn't pick it up well either. Canons just don't do well with a paucity of light. I just hope a certain someone with a Panasonic DVX (a camera which loves these sorts of low-light conditions) goes out tonight or tomorrow night and shoots some b-roll of the full moon with little scraps of gossamer clouds sliding across the lunar disk.
As I was out walking my neighbor's dog, I found that perfect composition. The moon, still low to the horizon, splashed a reflection along the path of the San Antonio River. Palm trees, etched in silhouette, framed the foreground. And across the river, along the levee-top, the old corrugated iron silos illuminated by dusty, orangy mercury vapor lights, framed the upper right of the composition.
If I've learned anything from watching a shit load of works by young, precocious filmmakers, it's the wisdom of collecting beautiful, lingering establishing shoots; or, well, anything beautiful that can be used effectively as inserts of cutaways.
Ah, hell. I just walked back to the corner of Crofton and Constance. The moon was up higher then my perfect composition. And armed with my camcorder, a tripod, and my little Nikon Coolpix, well, I tried my best. The GL2 couldn't handle it in either video or photo without pumping up the visual gain (and that always results in a picture that's unacceptable to me).
The pocket-sized Nikon fared slightly better. But, as you can see by this crappy picture, it's going into an automatic gain apparently just to spite me.
The difficulty (if not outright impossibility) or getting certain shots for film and video results in a level of frustration beyond the thresholds of most mortals. It's rough, guys. What the eye sees, the camera can't always capture.