Film festival returns to Johnstown after three-year hiatus
BY KAYLA PONGRAC
Our Town Correspondent
After being on hiatus since 2015, Johnstown Film Festival will return to the city Sept. 8 thanks to a partnership between local non-profit Johnstown Area Heritage Association and local college Pennsylvania Highlands Community College.
The revived Johnstown Film Festival comes in two parts; the first is titled “Scene One: A Day at the Movie Studio” and the second “Scene Two: Opening Night.” Penn Highlands will present “Scene One” on its campus, located at 101 Community College Way, while JAHA will present “Scene Two” at its Heritage Discovery Center, 201 Sixth Avenue. “Scene Two” is being made possible with support from The Tax Lady, LLC.
“Scene One,” scheduled for 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., will consist of seminars about filmmaking and student film screenings. “Scene Two” will be similar to previous film festivals in that film shorts submitted for competition will be shown.
Shelley Johansson, director of marketing and communications at JAHA, said she’s excited to help bring back what has always been a well-received event in the community. Johnstown Film Festival debuted in 2007 and “did what it was supposed to do, which was to stimulate interest in filmmaking locally,” she said.
“Popular filmmakers like Tom Getty and Max Fedore participated in this festival, and they are still out there making great films. Another former participant has made a Super Bowl commercial and music video for the band Alabama Shakes. Johnstown Film Festival has certainly been a stop along the way for many people who have really made a go of it in the film industry.”
Rick Bukoski, assistant professor in Communication and Media Studies at Penn Highlands Community College, said he contacted Johansson about reviving the Johnstown Film Festival after a successful film festival was held on campus last year.
“We’ve offered a media production program at Penn Highlands for the past five years,” Bukoski said. “After our Black Bear Film Festival last year, I reached out to Shelley and said, ‘Hey, what do you think about us being a part of Johnstown Film Festival?’ and, as you would have it, she said the two things they always felt were lacking in previous festivals were student films and educational components.”
Johansson added, “It had always been challenging to find ways to reach out to young filmmakers and to get them to enter their work,” Johansson said. “And, at one time, we tried to add educational components to our festival, but we didn’t get as much participation as we would have liked. I’m hopeful that Penn Highlands will add a lot to this year’s festival.”
Bukoski said he wants to give Penn Highlands students and the community at large an opportunity to make short films and then submit them into competitions such as Johnstown Film Festival.
This year, organizers hosted a call for entries through mid-July. Short films under 30 minutes of any genre that had a tangible connection to Johnstown or western Pennsylvania in theme, location, or personnel (producer, director, actor, etc.) were eligible.
“We wanted films that had a connection to Johnstown because that makes it so much more interesting for the audience,” Johansson said. “I think we ended up with a really nice variety, including submissions from people whose work we’ve seen before and people who have entered their work for the very first time.”
Johansson added that submissions included documentaries, experimental films, narratives and comedies.
“One film, ‘Men Suck,’ stars the late Laura Busony, who grew up in Geistown and graduated from Bishop McCort High School. The director reached out and said, ‘This is the story behind this film, and I hope you consider it.’ A film like this will be really special to be able to share with our audience. We also have a documentary about Johnstown, plus a film by a former Johnstown Film Festival student award winner who is now in film school. Kev Stock has also submitted three films, and he is a huge audience favorite. We’re really excited to see this program come together.”
Bukoski said he and his students are excited to welcome people to their campus for “Scene One: A Day at the Movie Studio.”
“Our students are excited about having the opportunity to make and showcase films,” Bukoski said. “Plus, we want to let people who are interested in filmmaking know that we’re here, because we can never do too much advertising. Some people aren’t even sure what a community college is. We actually have a very nice building, and our Communication and Media Studies program is relatively new, so we want to do what we can to make it succeed.”
Bukoski mentioned that student filmmakers in the Media Production Program's MPR 250 Video Production and the Media Production Club at Penn Highlands won first place in Greater Erie Film Office’s 2017 Short Film Competition.
“That first place award kind of really encouraged us,” Bukoski said. “We have been involved in that state competition over the past three years. Three years ago, we took home third place, and two years ago, second place, and finally, last year, first place. That encouraged us all the more to say, ‘Maybe we are big enough now to pull off this Johnstown Film Festival and make it interesting for people to learn about filmmaking.’ Maybe those people we inspire will go out and make their own films and be part of the competition next year.”
Scheduled seminars for “Scene One” are: “European Cinema,” “Transgendered Individuals in Film” and “The Greatest Films You Never Saw.”
A student award-winning film, titled “A Story,” will be shown, as well as other films produced by Penn Highlands students.
“‘A Story’ is such a fun little film that has to do with artificial intelligence and computers taking over the world,” Bukoski said. “To be able to tell a fun story like that in about five minutes is really cool.”
Admission to “Scene One” is free.
Doors for “Scene Two: Opening Night” are to open at 7 p.m. later that evening at Heritage Discovery Center, and the screenings are to commence 45 minutes later in the courtyard (in case of inclement weather, the films will be shown indoors). This is a ticketed event; tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance online by visiting www.jaha.org.
Films are not rated for content, so viewer discretion is advised.
The three winning films will be announced at the festival, and the filmmakers will receive cash awards. In addition, audience members will have the opportunity to vote for a “Viewers’ Choice” award.
The films that are to be screened are as follows: “Knife-Bricker: The Brickening,” directed by Jack Culbertson; “Lately” by Michael Spinos; “RobotCop I: Deadly Justice,” “RobotCop II: Motivational Speaking” and “RobotCop III: Undercover Bust,” all directed by Kev Stock; “The Sleep Temple,” directed by Bo Whittle; “Men Suck,” directed by Harry Bainbridge; “Hot Fizz” directed by Abdullah Abu-Mahfouz and created by Harrisburg’s Reel Nation Media; “Love You To Pieces,” directed by Zachariah Hornes and written by Nella Citino; “I Dreamed of Johnstown,” directed by Kevin Huffman; “Must Come Down” by Helen Stern; “Rations,” directed by Alexander Rhodes-Wilmere, and produced and written by Nike Perlmutter.
“It’ll be interesting to see if the new Johnstown Film Festival is well-received,” Bukoski said. “The arrangement we have is pretty cool: spend a couple hours with us in the morning and afternoon, and then come back for the big event at JAHA in the evening.”
For more information about Johnstown Film Festival, visit www.johnstownfilmfest.org.
“People are excited that Johnstown Film Festival is back,” Johansson said. “There has been so much enthusiasm for this event, and we’re confident it’s going to be a really terrific program. We can’t wait.”