Series focuses on student films | ParkRecord.com

Series focuses on student films

ANNA BLOOM, Of the Record staff

In addition to thanking their parents who donated many of the props, locations and cameos, the credits of the films shown at the Second Annual New Reel Short Film Competition recognized "script supervisor," "score mixer" and "acting coaches."

Such polish is expected of Hollywood filmmakers, but this competition was limited to high school students.

The 17 projects screened at the Jim Santy Auditorium ranged from film noirs to music videos to claymation and ski and skate films.

The longest feature, a 33-minute adaptation of Rahl Dahl’s short story "Lamb to the Slaughter," began production last August.

Films for the three-hour screening, hosted and funded by Park City Film Series Frank Normile and the series’ board, were chosen this year out of a field of 28 submissions.

Park City High School junior Jake Topkis and his brother Corey, a sophomore, earned first place honors and $500 for their computer animated short, "Pirate vs. Ninja." The seven-minute film features cartoon versions of the brothers in a fictional storyline about how they survived the apocalypse (which they imply occurred after 2004-ish) in a spacecraft. For fun, the space scientist brothers make a time machine and pluck a ninja and a pirate for a duel in an arid desert landscape. The film has been posted on YouTube.

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"I would attribute it all to [Park City High School film teacher] Chris Maddux," Topkis said. "I can’t name any other high school that has a film program like this.

"Topkis says he has taken four classes with Maddux since his freshman year. Maddux teaches skills and theory, he explains, allowing for a lot of creativity, while grading on the logistics, such as storyboard and planning.

Each year, Maddux takes advantage of the Sundance Film Festival, inviting independent filmmakers to his classroom and chaperoning students to a free screening of a festival film, according to Topkis. This January, the class saw a film about Hiroshima called "White Light, Black Rain."

Topkins won last year’s student competition with his adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s "Tell-Tale Heart," directed four of the selected films this year. Each of his films begins with an animated logo for his company, "Heart Beat Productions."

Park City senior Dylan Ragland, who received a special jury prize for "Best Original Music Video," served as co-host for the evening, alongside classmate Dane Bradford and Topkins.

Ragland’s film, "Old Schoolz," featured three rappers/skiers/high school senior studs who rap about eating fries at Davanza’s, haulin’ down S.R. 224, juniors stealing their parking spots and having "more friends than Tom from Myspace."

The film featured serious beats, serious filmmaking, but lyrics all in jest, says Ragland. The senior moviemaker has been accepted to California’s Chapman University, and plans to continue to study film. He said has taken seven film classes taught by Maddux.

Bradford received second place and $300 in the New Reel Short Film Competition for his claymation short, "Harmony," which features fighting clay sculptures wrestling for money, then for power. The figurines poke holes in each other, fall down laughing, then join forces to become a large clay monster.

"It was really cool to see people appreciating what we do," Bradford said after the film. "Usually, we just show our films to a class."

Bradford says he and fellow high school filmmakers spend hours each week editing and filming.

In his introduction to the festival, Maddux told the audience for each minute of quality film, he calculates that students spend as much as three hours on video production.

Maddux noted the younger generation of filmmakers middle schoolers in the audience, and mentioned he bumped into Bradford’s older brother in the lobby earlier in the night.

"The work these students do and the conditions they endure it all builds from year to year," he said. "Each year these kids do incredible work and spend an incredible amount of time on these films, and each year, they raise the level of the work."

The panel of judges this year featured local film producer Stacy Dymalski, her husband and film editor George Dymalski, documentary filmmaker Jill Orschel, Libby and David Wadman, as well as film critic Destiny Grose.

"These have been great projects from students you can tell they’re aspiring filmmakers," reflected George Dymalski.

"I think it’s a great outlet for them," he continued. "It’s a way for them to share opinions, when parents or peers don’t seem to allow it."

There were more entries in 2007, according to Dymalski, and the judges were hard-pressed to choose winners. This year, two films tied for third place (and a $200 prize): "The Bump," a 14-minute short directed by Park City junior Kasey Coyle, about a boy who struggles to ask a girl to the prom (he keeps reliving the same day and failing); and "Sock Land," a film by Park City junior Casey Fassett about a boy frustrated with losing socks in the dryer, who challenges the leprechaun sock thief.

Judges additionally awarded a special jury prize to "The Coolest Guy in Town," a seven-minute comedy directed by Park City junior Patrick O’Malley, about a small town whose hero is a quiet altruistic longhaired, sunglass-wearing man, who spontaneously pops up to help a little boy get a new ice cream cone, or help a woman make some toast.

The New Reel Competition’s program thanked Maddux beneath the night’s film lineup for "his help and guidance in brining many of these films to completion."

In return, Maddux explained to Thursday night’s audience that he likewise appreciated the students’ efforts.

"And the icing on the cake?" he concluded. "Some of these kids actually go on to make it."