Great Barrington — A film festival created and organized by Monument Mountain junior Dan Santos attracted 15 entrants from three area schools and a cheering crowd of more than 100 attendees on Friday night. “It’s the first time in our town that we’ve had an event to celebrate films by high school students,” Santos said, as he watched attendees stream into the school auditorium. A short while later, Santos stood at the podium and suggested the audience “sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.”
The films were all across the board in terms of genre and length. There were horror films, documentaries, comedies, and absurdist takes on the art form. Film lengths ranged from a surprisingly riveting 35-minute horror-fantasy film by students from Darrow School, to several entries that were a minute or less. Santos assured the audience that all the films were deemed rated PG.
Winners were chosen in four categories — Best Documentary, Best Comedy, Best Fiction, and Best Overall Picture — by a panel of three judges that included actor Karen Allen, State Rep. Smitty Pignatelli, and screenwriter-producer Stephen Glantz.
Monument freshman Nick Lussier of New Marlborough found out about the festival shortly before leaving for spring break on a family trip. A ski buff, who enjoys filming athletic action, he quickly planned to shoot a friend doing parkour, but he was unable to contact his friend on the day of the filming. Out of ideas, he brought his camera, a Nikon D7100, on the vacation to Asheville, N.C., and filmed scenes from his trip, later adding a voiceover about, well, life — a surprisingly mature take on it from a 15-year-old. “I figured I’d see where my filming took me,” Lussier said, describing his creative process. “And I just spoke about how I was feeling at this time of life, about living in the moment and not focusing overly on the material. I have faith in what I’m doing and believe in the process and not necessarily worrying about where the destination is taking you.”
Lussier’s short film, “Getaway,” exhibited a high-level of editing, which Lussier learned on the fly editing his hobby ski videos. “I love making movies,” he said. “This was the first one I made out of my comfort zone, and it was really nice to push myself.” “Getaway” won Best Documentary, which, like the other winners, came with a certificate and a check for $50.
Chosen for Best Comedy was a short film, “Cornelius’ Cavern,” by Charley Rusk, starring Cedar Potter as an absurdist host, creatively interspersed random vintage footage. Another crowd favorite was “Braeden,” which featured the mythical life of Monument sophomore Braeden Rombach, a mockumentary of sorts, in which he is a species of his own, an enigma to scientists, the only one of his kind, a curious creature driven by hunger and other urges.
In it, Braeden spends a lot of time tripping over himself, speaking nonsensical snippets of multiple languages, and obsessively rearranging his flannel shirt. The film was made by saxophone prodigy Jack Bertelli and famed somersaulter Liam O’Malley, who, in a moment of deft circular reasoning, claimed, “Without Braeden, there’d be no Braeden.” Another cheeky favorite parodied a clueless vegan who forages for honey only to learn that honey isn’t vegan, at which point she chews on a leaf and pleads to the bees for forgiveness.
The longest of the films, made by Darrow School students, and called “Burning Midnight,” had to do with a lunar rift in the school’s shadow pane releasing zombie-like bad actors called Shadow Spirits (not to be confused with ghosts). When it was chosen for Best Fiction, one participant from the Darrow School, Derrob Hagy-Weatherbee, was beside himself. “Karen Allen likes a movie I made? Oh my god! I was literally just watching ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ just this morning!” A second Darrow entry had to do with a student being haunted by a spectral lacrosse player in full uniform.
Karen Allen was equally wowed by all the celluloidic creativity on display. “It’s so much fun to see all these young filmmakers!” she said. Monument parent Dale Abrams concurred. “It’s so cool to see all these kids in this mode of creativity and celebrating each other’s work. It’s great to see kids supporting kids.” One of said kids agreed: “It’s been really exciting and really impressive!” said Monument Sophomore Robin Lamb, during intermission.
Best Overall Picture went to a Miss Hall’s production, “The Last Supper,” in which an actor dressed as a chicken, shot from the chest down, prepares a meal of Romaine lettuce, tomatoes, an uncertain meatball-like substance, and a heavy-handed sprinkling of sprinkles. Asked to explain her oeuvre, Seven Ingle could only say that it was inspired by the unusual and occasionally absurdist art of Alex Da Corte.
For his part, organizer Santos was very pleased with how his brainchild played out, the idea for which he says he got while mindlessly polishing golf clubs during his summer job.
“I was just bored and let my mind wonder,” Santos said. “And then I thought of it. It seemed like a good idea to showcase films made by students. More and more kids are making films than you might think, but they haven’t been getting a lot of recognition for it. This was designed to give them some exposure for their efforts.”