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Decorah-based Oneota Film Festival teams up with nonprofit ArtHaus to create a new, free filmmaking workshop for teens


The Mask We Live In
The Mask We Live In — featured at OFF 2016

In March, Decorah will host the seventh annual Oneota Film Festival (OFF), and this year they’ve hatched a program to engage young people in filmmaking.

Area teens will take part in a series of free workshops for documentary production in a crash course that starts at the festival with screenings and a luncheon for filmmakers and teens to talk shop, make pitches and network. Later, when the teen auteurs premiere their work at a special screening, they’ll get a “red-carpet” treatment for the opening.

When she became the festival director last summer, Christy Ebert Vrtis said she wanted to bring film programming geared towards teens to Oneota. Then last fall she taught a filmmaking class at ArtHaus, an art school in Decorah. She hopes to get some of the kids from that class involved in the OFF project.

The project was galvanized, Vrtis said, through conversations with community members who were “concerned about the wellbeing of our teenagers.” She said there is a need for inclusive activities, specifically arts activities, for young people in the area, and so she wrote a project grant to fund a documentary by and about teens.

On Beauty
On Beauty — featured at OFF 2016

The festival mission includes a focus on informing, inspiring and engaging viewers in the compelling issues of our time, but the primary goal is to build a community of film lovers. Vrtis said the teen project will address some of the critical issues young people face, and, at the same time, allow them to have some fun along the way by learning new skills, creating art and working together.

She’d like to continue the program in the future and even bring teenagers onto the board of directors to give them a voice in Oneota’s decision-making process and film selection.

Vrtis chose two films with a teen focus for 2016, On Beauty and The Mask We Live In. She said she was immediately drawn to On Beauty, which tells the story of a fashion photographer who turns his lens towards some unconventional young beauties. The Mask We Live In explores masculinity and gender stereotypes for young men. OFF is seeking sponsors to bring the two films’ creators to the fest.

The Decorah teen doc production team will discuss the documentaries, then begin to research and formulate their own project before a technical training the following week. They’ll have just over a month to complete their work, which will be screened on April 23 and again at the 2017 Oneota Film Festival.

OFF Director Christy Ebert Vrtis.
OFF Director Christy Ebert Vrtis. — photo by Robert J. Vrtis

ArtHaus will host the free teen classes. Vrtis said that providing the film training at no cost was the most important aspect of the project. In addition to free workshops and food (an important consideration for teenagers), the grant gives teens access to free equipment, technical assistance and training from filmmaker mentors.

OFF is gearing up for about 30 youth, aged 13-19, to participate in the screenings, discussions, pre-production and planning, shooting and editing of the work.

Vrtis will use feedback from the project to inform future teen projects. A few years ago, Oneota hosted teen film seminars that saw the production of some short films. Vrtis said she is looking forward to meeting the teen film crew and OFF is excited to restart their youth film program.

The festival does extensive community outreach, and getting young people involved has been a long-term goal of Oneota.

“We’d like to use this project as the beginning of a fellowship program that gets teens involved in OFF throughout the year: on the board, choosing films, planning events, making films and attending the festival,” Vrtis said.

OFF will host a night of short films at the “Very Best of Rural Route 2011-2015” screening on Jan. 21 at T-Bock’s in Decorah. The Oneota Film Festival runs from March 4-6 at Luther College in Decorah. Find out more about the festival at www.oneotafilmfestival.org.

Adam Burke is staying warm this winter with long underwear. This article was originally published in Little Village 190.


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