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Editorial: Film festival lesson in modern storytelling

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This weekend, movie-goers will be treated to a smorgasbord of short films produced by area high school students.

The films won’t be jerky home movies. They are polished productions that not only are technically proficient but meaningful.

On top of that, the lineup represents the best of the best, as about 50 films were submitted for possible inclusion.

Friday and Saturday, the Artcraft Theatre in Franklin will be the site of the fifth annual Franklin Film Festival.

The theme for this year’s event is “Choose to Matter.” Students scoured the community looking for subjects who are making lasting impacts on the lives of people around them.

“We’ve got a myriad of people helping the community. That’s one of the things we’re most proud of. We have people profiled who are making a difference,” said Don Wettrick, the Franklin teacher who is the driving force behind the festival. “It’s getting people who deserve credit that maybe haven’t gotten it before.”

The Franklin Film Festival was started in 2009, when Wettrick wanted to find a way to motivate his broadcasting students to complete a senior project. He hoped they would build on the short video news stories they do for the daily announcements and make 10- to 15-minute films.

The students are responsible for coming up with an idea, storyboarding how the film will play out, arranging interviews and getting all of the shots. They spend months editing on the school’s computers, adding music and effects until they have a finished product.

“People that come to see it still think they’re going to see a high school project. What they see instead are young filmmakers capturing stories,” Wettrick said. “That keeps the pressure on. The past three years, the films have been progressively better.”

Martinsville High School and Whiteland Community High School both have been active in the past and will participate again this year.

Whiteland telecommunications teacher Jeff Clawson said the group focused on emotional, ambitious stories that had not been told.

“This festival has got a really, really deep potential for outstanding experience with a lot of relevance. They’re publishing something in a public forum where a lot of people will see it,” he said. “And they’re working on the type of stories that aren’t usually found in a high school construct. For all of our students working in the documentary genre, they’re getting some eye-opening experiences outside where they’re comfortable.”

Among the topics covered this year will be teen homelessness, wheelchair soccer players and a national organization that encourages students to help sick children in their community.

Many people dismiss student filmmakers as a kind of YouTube warriors, where three minutes of video shot with a cellphone camera is posted online. However, this weekend’s student film festival will showcase filmmaking at a high level.

But more importantly, the students will give exposure and voice to issues and people who make a difference in the community. And those young filmmakers can count themselves as among those difference-makers, too.

If you’ve attended past festivals, expect to see even more polish than before. If you’ve never attended, be prepared for an unexpected and challenging treat.

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