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Draper Journal

Lights, camera, success: A Canyons School District filmmaker’s advice

Oct 12, 2023 09:59AM ● By Julie Slama

At Canyons School District’s film festival, awards are given to the top elementary and secondary students as well as teacher film entries. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

Lucky 13.

In Canyons School District’s 13th film festival, a record was set with 242 entries from 610 students and teachers. It’s a sequel that’s only missed one year—2021— since the District began 15 years ago. Even during COVID, the show went on with a virtual awards ceremony.

This 2023-24 film festival categories will remain the same: short film, documentary, animation, PSA, newscast and teacher film in addition to the festival poster contest. From the entries, the winners of the foreign language and digital citizenship will be announced.

This year’s film festival deadline is April 9, 2024. The red-carpet ceremony is April 25, 2024.

While last year’s top video entries are posted on the District’s website, honorees also will be recognized on Utah Education Network-TV at a yet to-be-announced date, said film festival director Justin Andersen, who said he appreciates the learning that leads up to the film festival.

“I like how the film festival helps students be creative and at the same time, it provides them an end goal,” he said. “Anyone can enter, they can borrow a device to film from school, come up with a storyline, a schedule and be their critique of their own work. They feel successful when they meet their goal to submit a video. I like seeing how they’re feeling proud of their work. That’s a powerful thing.”

While Andersen is fairly new to coordinating the film festival, he has been involved for eight years.

“I’ve seen kids submit videos every year; it’s been fun to see them grow and try harder things they’ve learned. They get better and better every year,” he said. “Some of the kids have submitted for years and maybe they’ve never won, but they come back, excited to try different categories.”

Hillcrest High 2023 graduate Abigail Slama-Catron first heard about the film festival as a second grader.

In a backstage interview after winning the PSA contest about supporting Girl Scouts by buying cookies that year, the youngster said she wanted to continue entering films in the festival. She kept her word, submitting entries as a student every year the film festival was held.

“I enjoy the process of filmmaking,” Slama-Catron said. “It’s fun picking ideas. I liked my pet adoption PSA in fourth grade. I was obsessed with animals, and it was so cute when I started out with all these Snoopys around me, but my words were serious. I started with a PSA because it was only a minute and did films about topics I knew something about, so it was easier.”

She also appreciated being able to be creative, especially with her short film, “Doggy Dreams.”

“I love that film. It’s a fun story. I was 11 and it was about my dog, thinking he can do all these fun things like race and fly. I portrayed him as a child who believes he could do everything. I had never done a feature film before, so it was fun to branch out. It was a simple story, but it turned out to be a favorite,” Slama-Catron said. 

She entered several documentaries.

“I learned how to research, and I especially liked doing some first-person documentaries, which makes me feel immersed in the story. In elementary school, I interviewed people about Hilltop House, and I got to learn what they do and how they help families. I also interviewed people to learn the history of Mt. Jordan (Middle School) and see it being torn down firsthand for another film,” Slama-Catron said. “In middle school, I included an interview with Jesse Owens’ daughter for a documentary about the Berlin Olympics.”

Some of her entries were group entries that she did as class assignments or with friends.

“I learned how to create as a team and how much work is involved,” she said. “I learned what worked and what didn’t. Throughout my filmmaking, I learned other skills, starting with (former film festival director) Katie Blunt teaching me how to use a tripod and the rule of thirds. I learned how to place your action or the person you’re interviewing in the best camera angles. I learned the importance of storyboarding and how it’s helpful to have an outline of your script before you fully write it. I learned a lot about lighting, sound and editing. From watching other people’s films, I’ve gotten ideas and I’ve learned how to tell an engaging story, especially from one teacher who enters every year. I always look forward to watching his entry.”

As a result of learning skills through her Canyons Film Festival entries, Slama-Catron, as Hillcrest’s audiovisual student body officer, created more than 35 films for her school. She also entered several contests, including being the youth runner-up at the Colorado Environmental Film Festival.

“Canyons Film Fest has made me into a comfortable filmmaker, editor and director. I wouldn’t have any idea of what to do in filmmaking if I didn’t do that nor would I have found this passion,” she said, adding now in her first semester of college, she is taking her first filmmaking class. “Going to the awards night is like being at the Oscars. Watching the films there is incredible. You get to watch an elementary newscast, then you see a hard-hitting documentary from a high school student. It’s engaging and you’re proud even if you don’t win. It’s important to try something new because you get that chance to learn. I don’t think when I was 7 doing these films that I would be taking a college film class. I just did it to have fun.”

The 2022-23 award-winners in the PSA category include Lucca Welch, Oliver Lundell, Liam Eliason and Kasey Horrocks, Sunrise Elementary; Jake Despain, Eastmont Middle; and Narayani Shankar, Hillcrest High.

The animation winners include Santiago Gonzelez, East Sandy Elementary; Joshua Lindsay, Albion Middle; and Jaeden Aguirre, Alta High.

Newscast winners are from Sprucewood Elementary and Jordan High School.

Documentary winners are Ethan Moore, Brookwood Elementary; Tawny McEntire, Eastmont Middle; and Kasch Hart, Corner Canyon High.

Short film winner are Ian Gibbs, Oak Hollow Elementary; Owen Turcsanski, Liam Turcsanski and Logan Hart, Albion Middle; and Jackson Hughes and Carter Kenworthy, Corner Canyon High.

The world language category winner is Anay Mertz, Hillcrest High and the digital citizenship award went to Slama-Catron. The poster contest winner is Nash Anderson, Hillcrest High.

Teacher film winner went to Dallin Maxfield, Dan Crowshaw, Joe Wale, Cory Christianson, Julianna Brassfield and Clark Ashland, Albion Middle. λ