When she first organized a small festival for student filmmakers at Princeton Public Library, Youth Services librarian Susan Conlon wasn’t thinking about the future. Her idea, back in 2003, was to showcase some local talent in one night of screenings.
“I really didn’t have any preconceived notions,” Ms. Conlon recalled last week while preparing for the 10th annual Princeton Student Film and Video Festival, which opens tonight and continues through tomorrow. “I remember distinctly the first year, people came up to me and said they had really enjoyed it, and ‘when you do it next year, maybe try this.’ So I thought, ‘Oh. I guess we’ll do this again.’”
The festival has blossomed into a much-anticipated summer event that draws participants from as close as Princeton High School, The Hun School, and Pennington School, and as far as Australia, Germany, and Italy. The Library’s Community Room is packed with film enthusiasts eager to see the latest crop of short works by high school and college students. There are 13 films each night, created by new and returning filmmakers. Nearly 200 works were submitted.
“We could easily have added another 20 to the programming,” Ms. Conlon said. “But I don’t want to burn people out and get too big.”
A lot has changed in the past decade. While the first festival was relatively spontaneous, the current event is highly organized. -Technology has made a major difference in the way films are planned and produced. “Kids now have access to incredible technology, and they can make films more easily and inexpensively,” Ms. Conlon said. “And every few years, the world of communications becomes so much more visual and technological. So it’s part of their everyday existence.”
Filmmakers from Princeton University and Rutgers University are taking part this year. Rutgers, which has a new program in digital filmmaking, is represented with three entries. “The kids who come, get a chance to learn about programs like that, and think about what their own next steps might be,” Ms. Conlon said. “It’s a great resource for a budding filmmaker. It’s good for high school kids getting started, who want some inspiration. They can maybe figure out if they want to go to film school. The college-age kids who have been at this for a while can show them what the possibilities are a few years down the road.”
The festival is intended for teen and adult audiences. Among this year’s offerings are Drugs by Darcy Thompson, Flaws by Gabrielle Giacomo, Ben & Elaine by returning local filmmaker Travis Maiuro, and The Coming Wave by Will Henry, a Princeton High School alumnus who attends the School of Visual Arts in New York. This is Mr. Henry’s first directed film in the festival. He appeared as a lead actor in previous years.
“We have a number of very good comedies this year,” said Ms. Conlon. “I think that’s the hardest genre. They have an element of drama to them, which makes them very intriguing. Our closing film, Parklife by Adam Volerich at Rutgers, has such a great balance between comedy and really human drama. One of the animation films that really blew us away is Reverie, by Valentin Gagarin from Italy. There are some really nice high school films, too, with great energy.”
Both evenings of screenings begin at 7 p.m. Admission is free. As always, filmmakers in attendance will receive a custom festival T-shirt featuring their names, title of their films, and festival logo. The other tradition is the after-party each night, with ice cream and sorbet courtesy of The Bent Spoon.
“When I communicate with the kids to let them know their film is being included, I get a sense of how much this matters to them,” Ms. Conlon said. “To be able to come and have well over 100 people watching your film and asking great questions, it’s just a great experience.”