Miniature movies

D.C.’s MHz television network is looking to celebrate the filmmaker inside every kid with its annual Shortz Student Film Festival.

“We create and change the world with our stories,” said Elizabeth Pringle, education director of the MHz, an independent public D.C. television network that focuses on educational and arts programming. “The Shortz festival is here to celebrate and support the work of students and teachers as they imagine and share their visions through digital media.”

Children in grades 2 through 12 across the country are encouraged to submit their film to compete for the MHz’s sixth-annual Shortie award, co-sponsored by GW’s Documentary Center. This year’s submission deadline is March 16. The award ceremony will be held at GW’s Jack Morton Auditorium June 3.

“We co-sponsor, we bring it to campus, we provide a venue,” said Nina Seavey, director of the GW Documentary Center. “It’s a way of bringing the attention to the documentary center, to the independent filmmaker, and a way of bringing independent film work to the documentary center.”

The student films, which are capped at 10 minutes long, can be made for any genre, including live action, music videos, animation and daily news programs. To foster child creativity, the network didn’t want to limit the films to any particular theme.

“We see a range of things,” said Pringle, who’s helped coordinate the festival since 2001.

“Younger kids (make movies) as classroom projects, in subjects like geography or math,” she said. “With the older kids, the sky’s the limit on what they will film. Everything from childbirth to gangs on the street of New York to more fanciful things like horror clips.”

Pringle said animations are also a popular genre among Shortz contestants.

Last year, MHz received about 130 submissions to the festival, with approximately 1,000 student and teacher filmmakers participating in the contest. Pringle said she’s hoping to field an even greater number of submissions this year.

A class of fourth and fifth graders from Arlington’s Hoffman-Boston Elementary School won a Shortie Award, the festival’s official prize, for Daily News Program last year. Their teacher, Barbara Papantoniou, said her students loved experiencing the filmmaking process through MHz’s workshop.

“I was amazed how they took a class from ground zero, from nothing, and steer the children into brainstorming, writing scripts and creating production teams,” Papantoniou said.

Since 2002, the Department of Education has helped fund the event to expand the festival and create a program teaches students the arts of scriptwriting, theater skills and the use of digital media.

“We were able to go into classrooms … and teach kids about digital media and creating their own stories, and then have a film festival they could submit their films to,” said Pringle.

A panel of judges from the D.C. area, made up of local artists, visual performers, music and theater buffs and filmmakers, evaluate the student films. Each judge spends two days in April watching the movies.

There are around six categories and four levels of quality on which the movies are judged, from performance, to camera lighting and sound, to script originality.

“The judges receive that rubric and we are able to look at the films with that kind of objective eye,” Pringle said.

Maia Ermita, who runs the MHz’s online professional development for teachers, is a graduate of GW and helped bring the festival to campus.

“This is an afternoon … where it’s a ceremony … very much like the Oscars,” Pringle said. “From the very beginning the ceremony included media pieces that go in between the awards, little fun things for the kids to follow, like movie tips.”

Last year’s entire program was turned over to students, who acted as award presenters and wrote the ceremony’s script.

“They … created this whole script from beginning to end,” Pringle said. “A story about someone trying to steal Shortie.”

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