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Film Challenge is just that

By Julie Ooms

Media is a culture-shaping force,” says Dordt communication professor Mark Volkers. And because media—especially visual media—is so powerful in culture, it’s important that Christians be involved with it. That’s why Volkers and his colleagues began the Prairie Grass Film Challenge, a two-year-old event designed to get people in the area thinking about media and how they can use it.

The first place award for this year's challenge went to a team from the University of Iowa for

The first place award for this year's challenge went to a team from the University of Iowa for "The Bear." Second place went to "Stand Up Twins" by a team of Dordt College students.

The Prairie Grass Film Challenge is called a “challenge” for a reason. After receiving an e-mail containing a genre, a character, a line of dialogue, and a prop (all of which must be part of their final product), participants have forty-eight hours to script, cast, film, edit, and submit their movies. Each team has, at most, eight crew members (not including actors), and it isn’t unusual for some or all members of a team to forgo sleep in order to finish. Even then, not every team actually finishes its film.

According to Volkers, this year eighteen teams registered, ten finished. By “finishing,” Volkers means submitting what he calls a “festival-ready film”; that is, all the actors, composers of music, owners of filming locations, and anyone else who may have had a part in the film must sign a release. Often that means that teams end up composing original music and selecting actors long before the start of the challenge in order to finish on time.

“We were really pleased to get a broader demographic this year,” Volkers says. He also noted an amazing improvement in the quality of films this year compared to last year. He hopes the festival will continue growing in popularity, particularly among high schools.

The participants in the festival, sleep-deprived though they are, tend to come out on the other side of their forty-eight-hour foray into filmmaking with a very positive take on the experience. Senior Nathan Nykamp says, “It was fun, but not easy. By the second day, no one has had a good night’s sleep or a decent meal. It’s also hard to preserve creative unity between directors, writers, actors, musicians. Everyone has their idea about what this movie is supposed to look like, and it creates tension. I learned a lot, though, and I wish that I could be around to do it again next year.”

And that’s the purpose of the challenge, according to Volkers: learning about working with film and working with others. "I want students to start thinking critically about what they consume visually. I hope students come away saying, ‘I could be a part of the production end of media instead of just the consumption end.’”