Rocks Fairfield Center:
Event draws celebrities, film critics,
network executives and area politicians
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)
Fairfield, CT – An event that held fast most of Saturday May 14 to the corner of Unquowa Road and Post Road, firmly planted in and around the Community Theatre, drew stars and local residents alike to celebrate youth achievements in film.
The occasion was the 8th Annual Westport Youth Film Festival, hosted by Westport Arts Center, and showing 50 local and international youth films in the historic downtown Fairfield theatre.
In addition to the films, three panels were held during the day. The first was titled “WYFF and the Reel World” featuring WYFF filmmakers and alumni in a dialogue. The second session, “My Big Break”, offered a collection of professionals from all different backgrounds talking about how they broke into the film industry. These included Mike Hausman, who produced “Gangs of New York”, “Brokeback Mountain” and “Amadeus”, and TV Director David Straiton, who directed “The Cape” and “House”. The final session, “Filmmaking on the Campaign Trail”, featured a one-on-one with Alexandra Pelosi, Emmy nominated director known for “Journey with George.”
Music performances were also featured, by Move Out West, which was the subject of “I’m All Smiles”, a music video directed by Weston filmmaker Brett Bassock, and Calliope & Cleo, a local easy listening band.
The day’s workshops were taught by WYFF alumni and were focused on How to Make a Viral Video and 16mm Hand-Painted Animation.
Of course, the main feature of the Fest was the film blocks themselves, all youth-produced. “This is an entirely youth-produced film festival, the only one in the world,” said Press Director Matt Silverman, 16, a junior at Weston High School. “As a teen myself, I’m confident in our ability to do great things, both in front of and behind the lens.”
One of the exceptional youth at the event was Joey DePasquale, 17, a junior at Weston High School. “I’m an area filmmaker with one film featured here and two others I supported,” he said. “In addition, I’m on Team WYFF as the deputy outreach director. Basically, that role entailed soliciting high-quality film submissions. I worked with Alex Fjellberg Swerdlowe, also a filmmaker, in developing promotional materials. It’s been a new experience being able to work in such a professional business environment. I’m going to film school next year and the contacts I’ve made will help me get a foothold.”
Another teen finding himself thrust into the spotlight was Matt Lindahl, 18, a senior at Staples High School. “I directed ‘Light’, a drama about a young man struggling with depression while roaming through his hometown,” he said. “We filmed locally and featured actors from around town. This is my first serious film and it was a cool experience to see it on the big screen.”
Lindahl’s writing partner, Spencer Fox, 18, also a senior at Staples, said, “Matt and I know each other from school. This is our first work together. Matt needed to create a college project and we put our heads together. The end product ended up being so much more than we expected.”
When the awards ceremony rolled around at 7 p.m., nearly a full house had gathered and the audience was studded with actors, filmmakers, local politicians and musicians. It was a who’s who of local talent.
Notably, Alex Fjellberg Swerdlowe won Best Connecticut Film for “Consequential Lies”, about a woman who finds out an 18-year secret. It was presented by film critic Susan Granger, who remarked about the filmmaker, “Talent reaches far beyond his years.”
The Music Video category was judged by Tom Calderone, President of VH1, who tapped Jake Kolton for “Silent Riot”.
Channel 7 Eyewitness News Entertainment Reporter Sandy Kenyon judged the Comedy category, tapping Alec Winshel for “Ted a Ted.”
Tony Award Winning Actress Joanna Gleason honored Matt Lindahl and Spencer Fox for their Drama “Light”.
Tapped in a new category, Friend of WYFF, Debra Somerville said, “Never underestimate the power of youth – their energy, dedication and hard work. This is the best Fest yet.”
For Fest Director Matt Kalmans, 17, a senior at Weston High School, the event was his bow-out as he will be leaving for college. “Today has been incredible, a culmination of lots of hard work and the efforts of 20 students from six different schools,” he said. “The experience has made an incredible impact on my life.”
2011 WYFF WINNERS:
Social Action Award
Molly Cinnamon, Miranda Kasher
Best in Connecticut Film
Alex Fjellberg Swerdlowe
Best Music Video
"An Apple Ending Story"
Samantha Highsmith, Cassandra Taylor, Adriana Martinez
Best Experimental Film
"Ted a Ted"
Matt Lindahl, Spencer Fox
Friend of WYFF Award
Excellence in Film Education
Audience Choice Award
Molly Cinnamon, Miranda Kasher