I had heard that the Grand Theatre was hosting a student film festival next month, but I had only a vague idea what it’s all about.
I found out early last week when I visited the Grand Foundation office in the 1900-era Tracy Town Hall building on Seventh Street.
There, I was met by Cynthia Souza, one of the Grand’s longtime stalwarts, who chairs the committee planning and conducting what is called the Tracy Grand Foundation Film Festival.
After a couple of years of talking about a student film festival and the past six months of actually putting all the festival’s pieces together, it will take place throughout the day on April 8, a Saturday, at the Grand. And I quickly realized it’s a bigger deal than I had first imagined.
The scope of the festival became apparent when Cynthia told me there are 31 entries — 17 from high school filmmakers and 14 from college students.
“Originally, we felt we could expect fewer entries than that, so we’re really thrilled we have so many,” she said.
The high school entries include those from high schools in Tracy, Mountain House and nearby communities. Most impressive, however, is the lineup of college entries — among them, UC Berkeley, San Francisco State, Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, UC Riverside, California State University at Canoga Park and Portland Community College in Oregon.
“One reason we have so many entries is that, unlike nearly all other film festivals, we limit our entrants to high school and college students,” Cynthia explained. “This way, the students don’t have to go up against professional filmmakers and can compete and be recognized among their peers.”
The student films, up to 15 minutes in length, represent styles from documentaries and narratives to animation. All have already been sent for judging through YouTube to five judges with experience in filmmaking.
Selected festival entries, including winners from both high schools and colleges, will be shown April 8 in the Grand’s main theater, beginning at 10 a.m.
“Because of the emphasis on student films, we have a strong educational component,” Cynthia said.
“Film Talk” speakers, before and after lunch, will be Shawn Ryan, a Los Angeles-based writer, director and entertainer, and Brooke Dooley, a Los Angeles TV and film producer and entrepreneur.
“Brooke is originally from Tracy, and that adds to hometown participation in our program,” Cynthia said. “She has a good grasp of many aspects of filmmaking.”
At the close of the program, around 4 p.m., the five judges will take part in a panel discussion, focusing not only on the qualities of the winning entries but also on making, producing and showing student-created films.
The film festival will conclude with a 5 p.m. reception in the Grand’s studio theater where awards will be presented.
Winners in both college and high school categories will receive cash prizes of $1,000; second place, $750; and third place, $500. Honorable mentions will also be recognized.
I asked Cynthia how the idea of the Grand Theatre film festival was hatched. She said it was a product of discussions more than two years ago among a group of Grand supporters. They pondered the need for programming appealing to students and young adults. Student films were the answer.
“Student filmmaking has really exploded in the past several decades,” Cynthia said. “More classes, better facilities and digital technology have all combined to greatly increase the number and quality of student films.”
Financial support from nine sponsors has been essential in bringing the original idea of a student film festival in Tracy into reality, she pointed out.
Although many of these attending the April 8 film festival will be students and teachers, the general public is encouraged to attend, Cynthia said.
“This is a chance for Tracyites to see some of the best student films being produced,” she said.