Student filmmakers highlight New Reel Comp
A new showcase for independent film made its debut in Park City this past weekend. But it had nothing to do with the Sundance Institute, and everything to do with the locals. The New Reel Short Film Competition came to town courtesy of the Park City Film Series, bringing a variety of films and filmmakers to the screen at the Santy Auditorium.
Friday night, the event featured 11 films from Park City High School students, with entries ranging from the cleverly shot, 3-minute rap video "It’s Nuthin," directed by Spencer Stuard, to the existential cinema of "Squab," a short film about a pair of friends trying to regain a piece of their past childhood.
Throughout the evening, each of the films that screened brought its own crowd, with viewers filing in to clap and cheer. That kept the atmosphere light and gave the screenings a sense of urgency.
"I think I was very happy and surprised with the student films," said Park City Film Series executive director Frank Normile.
"I’m just very proud of all the kids," said Chris Maddux, the media technology and filmmaking instructor at Park City High School.
In an ultimately unexpected turn, films from PCHS students captured not only first three spots in the student competition, but also the first spot in the adult competition. "Forget About It" shot and written by Park City senior Spencer Stuard took the top honors after the judges decided to move the film from the student division to the adult one.
"The judges thought it was a head and shoulders above everything else," said Normile.
"I was really pleased with Spencer Stuard," said Maddux.
For his part, the young filmmaker who, at 18, initially fit with the student category didn’t even know his film had been switched to the new category. His film screened Friday night with those of his friends, but while his peers’ works won the awards announced at the end of the night, Stuard was left empty-handed.
"I had no idea," Stuard explained, "until the following night."
Then he saw his film screen with the rest of the adult pieces and realized what was happening. His first place finish was announced after the screenings on Saturday.
"It was a huge honor," said Stuard.
In the student category, for those 18 and younger, "The Tell-Tale Heart," directed by Jake Topkis, took first, while "Bored," a comedy by Brad Douglas about boredom, took second and "Squab," by Connor Long and Joseph Amici, took third.
Among the adults, Stuard took first with "Forget About It," which was directed by James Bereece. Second went to "Innocence Lost," by Ben Rosch and third was a rock ‘n’ roll documentary, "Blessid Union of Souls: I Still Believe," by Todd Hougaard.
First-place winners in each category took home checks for $600, while second-place finishers took home $300 and those in third place received $100 each.
Perhaps the biggest differences between the categories, Normile noted, came with the styles. While many of the adults focused on documentary subjects and storytelling. The students focused on less linear, more stylistic narratives.
"The adults are more Ken Burns," said Normile. "The kids, they’re more Quentin Tarantino."
Maddux said the students put in the work to succeed with their projects. Because of that, he said he wasn’t surprised with their success.
"I know how much time and effort [they put into the projects] and how meticulous they were with the productions," he noted.
"The high school is obviously producing some great, great students in film," said Normile.
For his part, Stuard, who also won the top prize at the White Room winter sports film festival in December, credited Maddux with the high school students’ filmmaking prowess.
"Park City continues to amaze me with the films people produce," said Stuard. "I think he has drawn a lot of interest."
Stuard speaks from a position of relative authority. In addition to working as the cinematographer and writing "Forget About It," and directing "It’s Nuthin" he also did extensive work on two of the other films in the festival, participating as the cinematographer and producer of the surreal "Last Day of Winter" and shooting and directing the ski film, "Kidz."
Stuard said he is focusing on cinematography, although, he noted, he’s doing his best to do as much as he can in hopes of finding a way to make a living in filmmaking.
"I definitely want to do it as a career," he said.
In keeping with that goal, he plans to attend Chapman University to study film this fall, and in the meantime, he’s looking for investors to help him turn a few of his scripts into movies.
Normile said he was happy to see the New Reel Competition exposing talented filmmakers both student and adult and fostering further growth in Park City’s filmmaking community.
"You see, so many people in town are involved in this," he said.
And while the Sundance Film Festival, with its Hollywood stars and well-known films, will likely remain the most significant purveyor of independent film in town, Normile noted that independent film is, at a local, grass-roots level, becoming increasingly ingrained in Park City’s fabric.
"People want to make films," said Normile. "It’s pervasive, and persuasive."
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