Young New Hampshire filmmakers will have their moment in the spotlight this weekend. The New Hampshire High School Short Film Festival selects and showcases films created by some of the state’s youngest artists. For more on this, we turn to Matt Newton, director of the New Hampshire Division of Film and Digital Media, which organizes the festival. He spoke with NHPR’s Peter Biello.
These films will be shown at Red River Theatres in Concord starting on Saturday. There are 24 of them, but you’ve pulled these from a larger pool of films created by students all over the state. How big was that pool?
Every year we seem to get a pool of about 60 or 70 films. We got 66 this year. We pulled together a selection committee that reviewed every one of them and took a whole day watching all these films from about 16-17 different high schools and career and technical centers from across the state. We whittled that down to about an hour and 48 minutes of films to be showcased.
Yes, because you like to keep this under two hours.
We like to package this. And we take it on the road as well so it’s nice to have a 2-hour package that we can have screened at other independent cinemas.
So we should say it’ll start in Concord, but there will be other opportunities to see these films.
Correct, throughout the summer and the fall.
When the students set out to make these films, what guidelines did they have to follow?
We’ve always followed a 7-minute time limit. They can be as short as they’d like, but there’s a 7-minute time limit, including credits and sometimes the students have to really edit their films down or make very speedy credits at the end of their films. Otherwise it’s free game.
This festival is about allowing students to have a voice. They can talk about any types of topics they’d like to show on the screen, any genres, any directors they’d like to emulate. We see it all.
Some of these projects are produced individually. A lot of them are produced as part of class projects at various schools. A lot of those happened in the early spring semester of the school year. We see a lot of snow projects and group projects. There are individual projects but a lot of school projects involve teams of three or four.
What do you think students learn from this experience?
I’m hoping that they’ll learn the basics of cinematic storytelling, that film itself is a language, and we see a lot of these projects come out of video programs in English classes. It’s another way to use language and the psychological effects that film can have. So we’re hoping that students get a basic grasp at using cameras, using actors, using locations, but being able to tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end to it.
Students of this age have grown up with technology all around them, especially visual digital media. Phones have cameras. Is this generation uniquely suited for making films?
It’s a blessing and a curse, I think. We’re coming through a YouTube generation right now. As they learn how to use the various technology in this, we have to kind of break the mold a little bit. They’re used to telling stories that are 30 seconds, maybe a couple of minutes, and posting them on YouTube. What we’re trying to do is get them to think about production value, about how you use a camera, how you edit a piece, how that adds to a story or detracts from a story, rather than just posting something funny on a social media site.
So while they have greater access to technology and it’s easier for them to pick up their iPhones or what have you and make a movie. It’s about reining them in a little bit and getting them to be a little more structured about what they’re trying to say.
What will the winner receive?
It always varies from year to year. Some years we’ve given out scholarships. Another year we had technology prizes. Basically, we award them with their jury award certificate and the great thing we’ve done the last couple years, we’ve made a hand-crafted trophy that actually goes to the winning school for that film. So we like to look at this competition as something that is parallel to an athletic competition. You go to high schools and you see their cabinets full of athletic trophies. Well, this is our focus on the arts and the importance of the arts. So we created a trophy for the festival that the winning film gets their name and school added to this trophy. And they get to keep it for a year. It went to Nashua. It’s at Bedford right now. We’ll see who it goes to for the next year.
I think the joy of this is we get a chance to package these films, get them on a big screen and then we end up touring them at various independent cinemas throughout the state. The look on their faces when they realize that their film for one night might be in the next room to the biggest blockbuster that summer. To know that their film is right up there with it—it’s a treat for them.