Young filmmakers shine on big screen

Inaugural Digital Media Online Film Festival honors students, offers hands-on workshops

Inside the dark theater at the Lawrence Arts Center, the movie titles flashed across the screen one after the other.

There was "Aldi" - pronounced "All Die," a suspenseful flick - along with the short films "Darkwood" and "Constellation," among others.

The students watching the films were also the directors, writers, editors and sometimes stars of the show - the inaugural class of the first-ever Digital Media Online (DiMO) Film Festival.

The festival was open to student filmmakers in kindergarten through 12th grade in Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri. The Kansas University research group Advanced Learning Technologies in Education Consortia (ALTEC) created and sponsored the event.

It took the ALTEC volunteers, all of whom are Kansas University students, months to put the event together, said Amy Schimmel, an ALTEC member.

"People just said, 'Hey, this sounds cool, let's get involved,'" Schimmel said.

Schimmel and other ALTEC volunteers solicited the help of local sponsors and some film-savvy colleagues from the University of Nebraska to construct the event.


Maggie Ault, 13, right, a seventh-grader at Topeka Collegiate School, helps Phil Hauptman show students the uses of a green screen in movie production during the Digital Media Online Film Festival. Students attended filmmaking workshops and entered their films in a contest during Saturday's event at the Lawrence Arts Center.

They sent requests to area school districts, toured schools to promote it, and, in the end, wound up with 31 students - and their short films - from Lawrence, Olathe and elsewhere.

After the movie screening, the students broke for an afternoon's worth of movie-related workshops scattered throughout the Lawrence Arts Center.

Technology on display

Down in the basement Saturday afternoon, Phil Hauptman put a call out for volunteers.

The Nebraska graduate student needed someone to stand in front of the "green screen," and after a flurry of hands shot up, he picked Maggie Ault, a seventh-grader at Topeka Collegiate School.

Ault stood in front of a green oval, which looked like the fairway of a mini-golf course.

"All right," Hauptman said. "Swing your arms around, act like you're scared, like you're falling."

Ault waved her arms above her head, kind of half-smiling, and gave her best fake yell. Hauptman operated the camera, zooming in and out as she flailed.

All of this demonstrated green screen effects: How to make someone look like she's falling off of a building or blasting through space when she's really just standing around a movie studio.

Ault sat down as Hauptman fiddled with a program on a laptop computer at the front of the class.

One student sitting up front, Johnathan Clark, asked a flurry of questions while Hauptman tried to walk the class through the process.

"Which do you right-click on, the green screen or the one without?" Or, "Which is video one and which is video two?" he asked.

When the video was finally ready, Ault covered her eyes with both hands. Suddenly, there she was, up on the screen at the front of the class, fake-falling from the top of the Empire State Building.

From her seat, Ault cracked a shy smile.

"That was cool, though," she said.

DiMO honorees

After the workshops, the kids and volunteers got back together in the auditorium for the first ever DiMO Awards.

In all, the staff handed out 16 awards in categories such as Best Screenplay and Best Live Special Effects.

"Constellation," the cinematography-heavy film from Olathe Northwest High School student Michael Palm, won the coveted Chaffin Award, named after ALTEC founder Jerry Chaffin.

The Effects award and The People's Choice Award - a big deal here - went to Jake Schultz, a junior at Lawrence High School, for his film "The Book of Jeffrey Saunders."

After the ceremony, Schultz reflected on his movie-making experience. He had only two weeks and a small staff to put the film together, but in the end, Schultz said, the work paid off.

Now, his plan is to put the crystal, pyramid-shaped award up in his film classroom at school.

"It's a little outdated in there," he said. "I think this will look good there."


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