Submissions to the Forest City Youth Film Festival (FCYFF) are open until June 30 to any Secondary School student from London and Southwestern Ontario.

When Xavier Wehrli attended the first edition of the FCYFF in 2019, he was in Grade 11 at H.B. Beal Secondary School. He had never made a film before. “I was blown away by what kids my age were capable of,” he recalls.

Inspired by what he saw on screen, Xavier participated in the 2020 FCYFF and had excellent results. He submitted four films and one pitch, and he was a finalist in all five categories. Xavier won two of those categories (Documentary and Pitching) and received the Most Enterprising Filmmaker Award. “It was very encouraging to see people interested in my projects. As an artist, you spend so much time in creative isolation that when you put your stuff out there and people are responsive, it’s quite surreal.”

Wehrli was a visual artist before approaching filmmaking, having produced paintings, illustrations, and comic books. The festival was an opportunity for him to try new things. “I always wanted to merge storytelling with visual arts, and film is so powerful to relay information and message, it became my new media. It’s funny I never even considered it before the festival.”

One of the films he submitted to the festival was part of his successful admission process to the Film Studies Program at Ryerson University, which he will begin in September.

A Supportive Atmosphere

Entering its third edition, the FCYFF continues its mission to support and celebrate talented young filmmakers like Wehrli. Just like its parent event, the Forest City Film Festival, the FCYFF grows stronger each year. In 2021, the new categories Music Video and Promotional Video will join the traditional Animation, Narrative, Documentary, Pitching, and Experimental Video categories.

“In our first two years, we saw such incredible talent from our high school filmmakers. There is quite a range of skills, and filmmaking is an art that is also a craft that needs to be learned and always honed,” says co-founder Dorothy Downs who is also FCFF Executive Director.

A young man holding an award stands with a presenter on stage at the Forest City Youth Film Festival. Photo by Omar Alvadaro.
Tyler Joksas takes home a prize at the 2019 Forest City Youth Film Festival. Photo by Omar Alvadaro.

While most entries in previous years were from London, submissions also came from other Southwestern Ontario cities, like St. Marys, Woodstock, Waterloo, and St. Thomas.

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“Some of the youth filmmakers are already well down the path to learning the finer points (of filmmaking) while others are just in the early stages.  At all stages though, it’s wonderful to see the talent that is bubbling under the surface just waiting to be given the opportunity to shine.”

After his experience with FCYFF, using this opportunity is something that Xavier Wehrli encourages every student to do. “There is no risk in the festival whatsoever. It’s really supportive. It’s free. There’s no barrier to entry. There is a community that is willing to engage with you. Play with the skillset you have right now, and don’t worry too much about what other people are doing. As long as you’re moving forward compared to yourself, not to someone else, it’s good.”

Watch and Learn

FCYFF gives a lot of attention to the educational aspect of the filmmaking process, with the festival resulting from a partnership between the FCFF and the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB). The festival website offers many resources to students and teachers, including tips and seminars. Also, all selected films from previous FCYFF editions are available for viewing.

According to FCYFF co-founder and Innovations Coordinator for TVDSB, Laura Briscoe, the experience of being part of the festival can generate many benefits for students. She has witnessed young people gain confidence in sharing their stories and collaborating with others.

A photographer is taking pictures of a young man on the red carpet at the Forest City Youth Film Festival as a group of people look on. Photo by Omar Alvadaro.
The red carpet experience. Photo by Omar Alvadaro.

“Filmmaking is an opportunity to empower students’ voices and stories while also developing their core skills in the global competencies: critical thinking/problem solving, self-awareness/self-directed learning, collaboration, entrepreneurship/innovation, and global citizenship,” says Briscoe.

The Educational Power of Filmmaking

Becoming familiar with film techniques can pay off in both personal and professional ways. According to Dorothy Downs, the film industry is worth $2 billion in Ontario alone. “The ability to create clear communication in video or to know what can be done in this medium will benefit students through their careers, from business to industry to science. Also, being a teenager can be very difficult, and having the ability to communicate their feelings and thoughts in a way that interacts with the world can be very cathartic.”

Laura Briscoe believes teachers can benefit from the festival as well. “The filmmaking process helps teachers to build a sense of community in the classrooms and deepens their understanding of their students’ interests.”

She adds that the potential of filmmaking as an educational tool can enrich subjects other than Arts and Communications. “The Youth Film Festival categories are designed to encourage interdisciplinary participation, connect, and share directly with the community. Literacy, creativity, inclusivity, and communication are at the core of planning or exploring a film. The topics are completely open so that all subject areas can personalize their approach and find curriculum connections.”

You can find all information you need to know about the submission process and much more at the FCYFF website.

Feature photo from the 2019 Forest City Film Festival by Omar Alvadaro.

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