Armed with a video camera and a cause, area filmmakers set off to capture local people changing the world.
They focused on those working to end homelessness among Johnson County’s youth and showed the couch-surfing uncertainty that comes with it. Students talked with soccer players who don’t let being in a wheelchair stop them from enjoying their game.
Interviewing longtime Franklin wrestling coach Bob Hasseman, they learned how a man transformed an athletic program and shaped generations of young men.
Those stories and more will be on display this weekend during the Franklin Film Festival. For the fifth-straight year, some of Johnson County’s best young filmmakers will present their documentaries to the public.
Despite the growing popularity of the event, which brought nearly 50 submissions from schools from around Indiana last year, organizer Don Wettrick has had to scale the festival back. The focus has returned to Johnson County schools, which Wettrick hopes will make the event stronger and more locally relevant.
“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.”
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.
“As a student, it teaches us how to take on our own challenges and be a leader. Mr. Wettrick gives us the assignment, tells us when it’s due, and then we have to get it done. We’re not having someone hold our hand; we’re doing this on our own,” said Sam Meyer, a junior at Franklin who created a film on technology and the media this year.
Though the first festival was open only to Franklin students, Wettrick allowed other county and regional schools to take part in subsequent years.
Martinsville High School and Whiteland Community High School both have been active in the past and will participate again this year.
Whiteland’s broadcasting students plan to submit more than a dozen documentaries. One of the strongest submissions looks at the Indiana Lifeline law, an effort to reduce the punishments for underage students who might hesitate to call 911 when a friend has drunk too much.
Another examines the lives of special needs students and their families. 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,” Clawson 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.”
Last year, submissions came from Carmel, Lawrence North and Chesterton high schools. But the festival has almost outgrown what Wettrick could do himself.
He has been the driving force for the festival since it started. With other classroom projects, such as his newly formed innovations class, taking up an increasing amount of time, he couldn’t dedicate as much time to find new sponsors.
“We had so many schools, but the effort to recruit all over the state wasn’t necessarily bringing in extra people,” Wettrick said. “After reconvening, we decided we’d just make it a Johnson County and Martinsville contest. That’s where the people who support it were coming from.”
But refocusing the festival has led to a spurt of creativity from the participating schools.
The theme for this year’s event is “Choose to Matter.” Students scoured the community looking for subjects who are making lasting impacts in their lives and those 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,” Wettrick said. “It’s getting people who deserve credit that maybe haven’t gotten it before.”
One group met with Oscar Yturriaga, the community outreach coordinator for Franklin schools who helps tackle homelessness. They talked to him about the efforts of the Kids In Crisis-Intervention Team helping youths without homes and met with teenagers who had no place to live.
“We had kids going out and interviewing people on location about their struggles with homelessness. We’ve never tackled something like that before,” Wettrick said.
Juniors Jamie Price and Ashley Booe spent time with Power Soccer of Indy, an wheelchair soccer club.
Seniors Jake Gildersleeve and Jake Baas focused on the Sparrow Club, a national organization that encourages students to help sick children in their community.
The experience forced them to make calls and set up interviews with people living throughout the country. Doing so has honed their skills as they move on to college and pursue careers, Baas said.
“It’s helped me to branch out and not be scared to reach out to people outside the community. There might be someone a couple states away that has something that needs to be shown, and we shouldn’t be afraid to show it,” he said.
Subject: Bob Hasseman, the wrestling coach at Franklin, and how he turned a moribund program into a state power.
Creators: John Gramse and Casey Smith, juniors at Franklin Community High School
Why did you pick this? “Hasseman is a good character to do this on. He’s a nice guy and interesting. We thought he’d be a good subject. We hope people take away that wrestling is an important sport, since it’s not viewed as important as football and basketball. Indiana is one of the best wrestling states in the U.S. Hopefully, people view wrestling differently after seeing this.” — John Gramse
“Power Soccer of Indy”
Subject: Power Soccer of Indy, a group of athletes of any age who gather to play soccer from motorized wheelchairs, and the struggles that they face.
Creators: Jamie Price and Ashley Booe, juniors at Franklin Community High School
Why did you pick this? “They bring all these people together and let people in wheelchairs know that there’s this whole community who want them to be there. They’re not at a disadvantage. They’re just like us. We want others to see that too.” — Jamie Price
Subject: The Sparrow Club, a national organization that rallies elementary, junior high and high school student to help sick children in their communities.
Creators: Jake Gildersleeve and Jake Baas, seniors at Franklin Community High School
Why did you pick this? “We hope people take away that, even in elementary school, middle school, high school, you can make a difference in someone’s life. It’s not hopeless. You can do something to help someone else out.” — Jake Gildersleeve
“Internet and the Media”
Subject: Adaptation of media outlets to modern technology, social media and changing with the times.
Creators: Sam Meyer and Austin Schmidz, juniors at Franklin Community High School
Why did you pick this? “The theme of the festival is ‘Choose to Matter.’ We went through multiple subjects. But I started thinking about, how is the media still relevant with the Internet and social media. Literally, I can get on my iPad and get on any number of websites. So what’s the drive to stay in this industry? News has become getting it in as soon as possible. Everyone is an adapter now.” — Sam Meyer