Short Films Alive!
– Karen Fineran
The scene opens to the bouncy strains of a ragtime piano player. A group of cowboys play poker in the Yukon Territory, northwest Canada, during the Yukon Gold Rush of the 1890s. A white-aproned barkeep cleans beer glasses.
Whiskey-guzzling cardplayers slap down their card hands with good-natured jests. In the corner of the saloon, we see a young woman (“the lady that’s known as Lou”) with her lover, a roughneck prospector slumped with a hat over his face.
Deep-voiced narration begins: “A bunch of the boys were whooping it up in the Malamute saloon; the kid that handles the music box was hitting a jag-time tune.” The audience follows the narration and watches the screen with anticipation.
The Arts Alive column
Lady Lou and her lover (who we learn from the narration is Dangerous Dan McGrew) are scrutinizing the newcomer. The curiosity of the audience grows as Dan’s face freezes. The stranger stops playing, pronouncing loudly that “one of you is a hound of hell . . . and that one is Dan McGrew.”
The lights blink out; gunshots erupt.
The setting for this film was not a local movie theater, but the familiar Mockingbird Café in downtown Bay St. Louis. The event was the first short film showcase to be featured as part of Hancock County’s Arts Alive Festival, held this year on March 18. The film was The Shooting of Dan McGrew, an interpretation of the famous 1907 narrative poem of the same name by Canadian poet Robert Service.
Dan McGrew was just one of 11 short films that were submitted by students from area schools, including Bay High’s Digital Media program, and screened at the Mockingbird as part of this year’s Arts Alive. Dan McGrew was a big hit with the audience, who particularly enjoyed the twist ending that startled them after the closing credits.
Cameron explains the genesis of Dan McGrew: “In my English class, we were given the assignment to create a visual interpretation of one of the poems in our textbook. It was easy to see, after flipping through the poems that we had to choose from, that Dan McGrew would be fun to make, and easy to visualize on film.
"We shot it in about five hours at my parents’ empty house that we had just moved from.”
Cameron has been making movies since elementary school. He plans to apply to colleges with film schools and possibly to attend film summer camp this summer.
Other short films screened that night, all under eight minutes, including several intimate looks at grief, loss, and learning experienced by teens, as well as some lighthearted comedies, including a horror parody stop-motion animated Legos short by Landon Brady and Aidan Pohl, depicting a “Horrorible Love.”
Other Bay High students who contributed films to Arts Alive this year included Grace Powell, Corey Jennings, Alyssa Juge, and Seth Denison.
Audiences appreciate short-form films; it’s much easier to ask people to watch a five-minute short film than a feature-length one — especially if it comes across your Facebook feed, and then you end up watching it on your iPhone.
“This year, the short film showcase for Arts Alive was really all just pulled together at the last minute, but then we had such an amazing response to it!” says Martha Whitney Butler, President of the Arts, Hancock County.
“First, I came across Dan McGrew and other Bay High short films, and at the last minute, there was even a student from the University from Pennsylvania in the audience who asked me if we could add his film to the lineup, and we were able to do it! The audience was blown away!”
Butler is thrilled that the Beacon Theater in Waveland is now in discussions with Hancock Arts to show student films before their feature movies, and perhaps to hold a Student Film Screening Night.
“I believe that this might have been our most successful Arts Alive event ever, and we definitely plan to hold it next year!” she enthused.
Bay High Digital Media Technologies teacher Tarah Herbert loves working with the budding student filmmakers. She is especially enthusiastic that, this month, Bay High is submitting several short films, including Dan McGrew, to the Mississippi High School Film Competition, part of the Tupelo Film Festival, established in 2004.
Since 2014, the Tupelo festival has been taking submissions of films of no longer than ten minutes from Mississippi high schools to promote the art of filmmaking and to encourage student amateur filmmakers to hone their skills.
Awards and matching cash prizes (from between $150 to $500 apiece) will be awarded to both school sponsors and the winning student filmmakers. This year, awards even include full and partial scholarships to the Watkins College for Art, Design and Film in Nashville, Tennessee.
The competition will be held Saturday, April 22nd, at the Malco Theatre in Tupelo, with the film screenings to be followed by awards and filmmakers’ Q & A. (Tickets $5; for more information call 662-213-3307 or 662-605-0691 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.