(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles…)
In THIS digital age of YouTube and MySpace, anyone with a camera can aspire to be the next Steven Spielberg or George Lucas. And the 14th annual FRESHi Film Festival -- being held Saturday at Raleigh Studios in Hollywood -- mashes "fresh" (i.e., young and new) and "independent" together to give a look at the next generation of filmmakers.
It's a festival for kids by kids, with more than 400 entries from as far away as India, Puerto Rico, Hawaii and Scotland submitted by students ages 18 and younger.
"Kids have a purity of vision because they're not focused on commercial ventures," says festival co-founder Chris Shoemaker. "They have important things to say, and we wanted to be able to give a showcase to that voice."
Awards for screenwriting and filmmaking will be given at the end of the day in a ceremony featuring performances by composer and hip-hop artist Kevin Paige and pop duo Jewel and Blaire Restaneo.
At the screenwriters showcase, each finalist will receive a reading of a scene from his or her script by professional actors, including up-and-comers Sadie Alexandru, Mike Korich and Kenny Marrero.
Screenings of the top 45 films -- chosen by a jury composed of filmmakers, parents, youths and teachers, and running in length from 2 1/2 to 30 minutes -- will be shown throughout the day.
Attendees will also have the chance to participate in hands-on workshops in directing, acting, stunts and voice-over for animation. A "My Beauty" mobile unit will be on location demonstrating special effects and theatrical movie makeup.
Founded by Chris and Suzanne Shoemaker and associate Patte Dee McKee, the festival informally began in 1993 as unstructured activities and workshops for kids involved with the Burbank-based nonprofit International Family Film Festival. Eventually the kids wanted a festival of their own and FRESHi became official.
The Shoemakers, who have a theatrical background in producing, directing and writing -- including work in more than 100 productions in the U.S., France, Canada and China and at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland -- wanted to give kids the tools to make films that communicate their point of view and to give them a venue to share ideas with each other.
They were approached by the Los Angeles Unified School District four years ago to develop a filmmaking curriculum for after-school programs and soon FRESHiFilm Worx After School was born. The program has now been implemented in 350 schools across 20 states. The Shoemakers also conduct film camps in L.A., Puerto Rico and Detroit every summer.
In addition to the cheeky fare that one might expect from kids -- such as "Never Trust Arachnids," about two ants that hatch a get-rich-quick scheme on the advice of a spider -- heavy issues were also explored. The young filmmakers did not shy away from the topics of religion, world peace and the Russian Revolution.
One of this year's finalists, "It's a Wonderful Climate," takes a comical look at global warming. "The script was based on 'It's a Wonderful Life,' where this guy gets a chance to see an alternate vision of the future," says the film's producer, Joseph Friedrich, 17, of Santa Monica.
He and his classmates from Harvard-Westlake School shot, directed, acted in and edited the six-minute short as a class assignment. Yet Friedrich found himself dealing with the same exasperating job duties of a big-budget producer, such as securing the music rights for three songs used in the film. Instead of forking over the big bucks, he contacted a sponsor from an environmental company, who put up the cash.
"These kids are discovering that they have . . . verve and moxie to communicate their point of view," remarks Shoemaker. And isn't that the true spirit of independent filmmaking?
2008 FRESHi FILM FESTIVAL
WHERE: Raleigh Studios, 5300 Melrose Ave., L.A.
WHEN: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Sat.
PRICE: $15 (entire day), $10 for lunch. Parking: $5
INFO: (661) 257-3131, www.freshifilmfest.com.
To view films: www.freshiflix.com