Effingham Daily News
Sold-out shows, crystal trophies and community support will all contribute to Effingham High School students' experience with 15 minutes of fame during the 2013 AHA Film Festival this week.
The ninth-annual event opens on Thursday at 8 p.m. with doors opening at 6:20 p.m. at Effingham High School. The Friday show sold out Feb. 28.
"This place will be swamped," said Joe Fatheree, multimedia teacher at the high school. "I encourage people to get there sooner than later... I can't believe the festival has grown this big. I'm really excited."
This year's festival features 26 short films. About 60 films were submitted by 52 students from multimedia, animation and video production classes, but more than half had to be cut due to time constraints.
Students have the opportunity to win Best Cinematography, Best Acting, Best Animation and Best Picture awards on Friday night. Movies will be judged by a jury panel of mostly local people with art backgrounds, although one judge is commuting from St. Louis.
"They spend a lot of time making sure the right person gets the right award," Fatheree said. "That's something I really like about the community."
There will also be a People's Choice Award, which Fatheree says gives the audience a chance to find a piece that "really speaks" to them.
Fatheree said community support and anticipation are what have sold out the festival's showings every year.
"This is a celebration of academic achievement," he said. "The whole community shows up to see their homework. They're (students) excited to see how people respond."
Of course, putting their hard work on display can be difficult for students.
Fatheree referenced what he calls "teachable moments," in which a student director carefully watches the audience during his or her film, looking for the intended emotional response. If the audience doesn't react the way a student was expecting or hoping for, the director learns he or she has to tweak that technique in the future.
During the show, "the pressure and tension is just unbearable (for the students. They're on pins and needles," he said.
But even in those potentially crushing moments, there is a lesson - the festival offers the highest accountability.
"The kids can't hide from it," Fatheree said.
Films this year cover a range of genres, including animation, comedy, documentary and suspense, and some pack a deep script. Fatheree calls it a nice mixture of shows that offers something for everyone.
"We've got some pretty good serious pieces and some really funny comedies," he said.
At least three groups spent five months working hours every week on their animation films.
The festival also features three original songs in movies titled "Super Sappy Love Song," "Bling" and "Zombie Love Song."
Fatheree says many festival-goers enjoy seeing local actors appear in the films.
"You may get to see your restaurant owner, or your banker," he said. "You just never know who will show up as an actor. It's fun for the community."
Fatheree said the festival is something that really sets Effingham High School apart from other schools in the country. Many university multimedia programs, he noted, don't even give students the opportunity to do something so hands-on until junior or senior year.
The classes and films give the teenagers the opportunity to get a hands-on feel of what the industry is all about. Students learn about project management, communication and collaboration in a team, as well as more about art and design, and public relations and promotion through the Internet and social media.
"It's never been more important to communicate across multiple platforms than it is today," Fatheree said. "(These films) help them define success."
And the success is cyclical. The proceeds from the festival fund the classes' equipment, trips and other opportunities beyond what Unit 40 School District can provide for the curriculum.
Fatheree has been overwhelmed by the district's support of the film festival since it began nearly a decade ago and is happy that year after year students have been able to sell out shows that not only show off what they have been doing, but ensure that next year's students can have as much, if not more, of an opportunity to do the same.
"The magical thing about this class is that every class is built on the shoulders of those before it," he said. "They keep raising the bar."
The festival's films include "Zombie Love Song," a contemporary, romantic take on the phrase "it's what's on the inside that counts; "Flight of the Fly," a 30-second film depicting struggles in the life of an insect; "It Takes a Village," a documentary done by an adopted student interviewing her blended and biological families; and "Everyone's got a Story," which shows a new appreciation for life after interviewing survivors of traumatic events.
Nicole Dominique can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 138, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.