Young Lamorinda filmmakers inspired, educated by ‘ShortDocs’
By Lou Fancher
The creative fever behind the 17 short films to be featured at the Lamorinda ShortDocs Film Fest might stir a budding filmmaker to bloom.
Someone like Jack Nixon, a 12-year-old Orinda Intermediate School student who won last year’s Elementary School division award for “Public Art is Everywhere.” Returning for a second year, his “The Culture of Skateboarding Revealed” shows Nixon stepping up his game
“This year, I used a Canon FX 530, an aerial DJI drone with a mounted HD camera, and iPhone clips I shot,” he said. “The Canon is a good beginner camera because it’s easy to operate — no detachable lenses — but offers high quality.”
Nixon taught myself to use Final Cut ProX for editing. “I just go for it and click around, or if there are short YouTube tutorials on a specific thing I want to know about, I use them.” For people just starting out, Nixon said simpler, free editing programs are ok, but if a person has the funds to invest, he recommends jumping to Final Cut.
Meredith Friedman, managing director of festival producer Lamorinda Arts Council, said the second annual festival largely followed last year’s format. Categories for the under-six-minute documentaries include elementary, middle and high school divisions, along with an adult division. Two to five films in each category are selected to be screened at the festival. The judges’ and people’s choice award winners receive trophies and $100 Amazon gift cards.
The four judges who determine the films selected for screening and the awards have professional filmmaking or film production backgrounds. They use a professional site called Film Freeway as a rubric.
“Each judge gets assigned two categories of films,” explained Friedman. “At least two judges watch each film and give it a rating. If two films are very close in number rating, I’ll typically ask the judges to either have a discussion about it, or bring in a third judge to view it.”
Friedman said films are accepted from Lafayette, Orinda, Moraga and Walnut Creek residents. There are no age restrictions, but all films must be G-rated. This year, one film about a young boy’s expulsion from school was disqualified after the judges determined its content would be inappropriate for young audience members. Friedman said the judges were also concerned the film’s central character — a student who lives in the community — might be negatively impacted. “We let the filmmaker know, extended the deadline a few days, and allowed him to enter an alternate film,” Friedman said.
This year’s cinematographers made good use of drones, and favored upbeat films about animals and performing artists.
With a mission to celebrate local culture and elevate artistic expression to high standards, filmmakers enter their documentaries using the same online platform that the judges use for viewing. Instead of simply uploading to a public YouTube channel, the process teaches professional skills. “Once the film is uploaded to Film Freeway, they can submit it to other festivals at the touch of a button,” Friedman said. “It’s great exposure to the entire film industry.”
Nixon says his learning curve is like the Moraga skate park, where he shot most of this year’s submission — steeply sloped and exciting. The interviews he conducted taught him to change his mind.
“I used to think skateboarders got better by themselves. I realized we get better as a group because people are always pushing each other to get better.” As a cinematographer, he pushed himself. Slicker transitions, wider variety of music, action synced with sound and other improvements he says make this film more of a personal statement. “I wanted this to be meaningful. A lot of people misinterpret skateboarders. They think we’re punks and up to no good and doing drugs. But 90 percent of skateboarders are really good people who just like skateboarding.”
And 100 percent of people who like locally produced films, the audience at the festival, will probably like what Nixon likes — getting high on films and freewheeling creativity.