In light of the Historic Milton Theatre's announcement of the building's foreclosure in September, I wanted to share a recent experience I had there. I was honored when Libby Zando, the owner of Zando Designs in Milton, Del., asked me to be a judge at Milton Theatre's "Best in Summer Shorts" contest, or BISS. Zando has organized this event now for four years.
The event, which kicked off the evening of July 10, 2010, was an amateur video contest, was comprised of several short videos from people who live within the Delmarva area.
I met and hugged Zando outside the front door immediately as I arrived at the theatre at around 6:15 p.m. We went inside and she quickly briefed me about what I had to do, which was introduce and ultimately help award the various prizes. I was basically going to be a MC, not exactly a master of ceremonies, but more like a co-host of the night. Zando was the true MC.
The Best in Summer Shorts was not only a reference to the fact that the program was all "short" films, but also to the fact that the attire was supposed to be "short" pants. I knew that in the back of my brain, but I instead wore long jeans whereas Zando had shorts. I did, however, wear the BISS logo T-shirt, which Zando gave me two years prior when I attended BISS in 2008 as just an observer.
The night was split into two hours. The first hour was a look back over the first three years of BISS. Zando took to the stage to kick things off. She then sat next to me in the front row. Each short movie was played on DVD and in between the loading of those DVDs, Zando would comment in the dark using a microphone. She would give information and tidbits about each movie.
The first three were from the first year of BISS. They were three hilarious comedies. The very first, "To Make a Long Story Short" by Brenda Heckert and Jill Roberts, was in the spirit of a variety or sketch comedy show not unlike The Carol Burnett Show with actress Brenda Heckert stepping in Burnett's shoes. To see that film, you can go to her website:
"Seller's Remorse" by Bob Blayney, Zando's husband, followed and "Party Pak" by Tyler Howard, a photo montage of stuffed animals, positioned to give the impression that they were getting drunk off Dogfish Head beer, was the third film of the night.
Continuing in the dark with her microphone, Zando then introduced the second three short films from the second year of BISS, that of 2008. All three were more serious, more professional and way more dramatic than the previous selection. This selection was the crop that I personally saw that year. While there were many good choices, the three that Zando introduced were truly the best of BISS that year.
"Milton: A Look Back" by John Mixon was a documentary about a group of people talking in nostalgia of the town in Sussex County, Delaware, decades ago. They commented on how the town was very much like Mayberry from The Andy Griffith Show. It was more of a tight-knit, lively, centralized community than it is now.
"Problem Solver" by Zach Rehnstrom bookended the films from 2008. The black-and-white, noir-like movie told the story of a bartender in Milford who was a lot more than just a guy pouring drinks.
However, the most outstanding of the three 2008 shorts was "Whistle" by Eric Walter and Jon Parke. Walter who directed did an extraordinary job. If I'm not mistaken, I believe he won the majority of the prizes at that year's BISS, and he absolutely deserved it. Even though he would never say it himself, I can't give him enough praise. To read about that film and Walter, here were my thoughts at the time when they were posted to The M Report:
After a brief intermission, Zando got back on stage. This time, Ellen Passman followed. Passman is the president of the Milton Theatre's board of directors. She handed out the door prizes after allowing me to pick people's ticket stubs from a basket. Both Zando and Passman left the stage, leaving me alone up there.
I took a moment to talk about myself and the importance of small films as well as the importance of locally-made films. I said how much I appreciated the Milton Theatre and people like Zando and Passman who organize things like this, especially in an environment where small and local films aren't given many venues outside of YouTube.
I was able to talk to some of the filmmakers who had submitted their works, so I was able to gather some information about them. The first movie I introduced was "Welcome to Five Springs" by Sarah Schactel. She's 16 and actually made her first movie when she was 11. This movie was a documentary about a farm in York, Pennsylvania, where her dad works. Schactel focused her flip camera on the farm's horses whom when bored will cause a bit of mischief.
The next films I introduced were the two hits from Josh Lynch and Adam Clifton. Both have been submitting works to BISS since its inception. The two movies shown were "Milton the Ferret" and "Milton the Ferret: The Sequel," or as I referred to it as "Milton the Ferret: The Squeakquel." Both were Jim Henson-style capers.
Their latest was a mockumentary called "Action." The comedy is about a filmmaker trying to make a short film for BISS. Lynch and Clifton both star in it. It's much in the same vein as Christopher Guest. When I pointed that out to Lynch and Clifton, the two 20-year-olds had no idea who Christopher Guest was. I honestly wouldn't have expected them to know. The two only recently graduated from Sussex Tech High School where they got their education on film and video production. According to Lynch, Sussex Tech's program has its own studio, built like a TV news station, and is one of the best on the east coast for a high school.
Lynch and Clifton even started their own company called Alan-Lynch Productions. On their website, they wrote at the top. "At ALP, we have a passion for making creative productions. Whether it's commercials, promotional or corporate videos, digital films, live event coverage, wedding videos; we do it all. Every project we take on, no matter how big or small, we approach with the same amount of enthusiasm." Because I definitely felt this while watching their latest flick, and because the overall entertainment value was the highest of all the entries, as judge, I awarded Lynch and Clifton the Best Overall Achievement prize.
The last film to cap the night was "The Latke that Ate Milton" by Shelly Grabel. It followed an elderly Jewish woman as she prepared the traditional Hanukkah meal and explained the holiday's origin. Nevertheless, I'd like to take a moment to talk about the film prior to that, which won two awards that night, one of which again was given by me.
The audience applauded the loudest for Sam Roe's "The Factory." Based on that, the film won the Audience Award. "The Factory" is about a bunch of living snow men who control humans. The idea came from Roe's girlfriend who originally conceived it as mind-bending earmuffs. Sam Roe says he spent four months working on it for school. Roe is a 22-year-old student who attended the Delaware College of Art and Design as well as the University of the Arts.
He said he spent many nights over those four months, sometimes working until three in the morning. The movie shows his hard work, as the attention to detail is very good. Those details as well as the composition of his shots, the movement of his characters and editing were what made me, as judge, decide to award him Best Technical Achievement at BISS. Of all the other films, his certainly was the most technically proficient. To read more about Roe, check out his blog at http://sam-roe.blogspot.com/.
The awards given out that night, besides giving the budding filmmakers bragging rights, also had monetary prizes attached to them. That money wouldn't have been possible without the help of the theatre's sponsors. The specific sponsors of that night included Milton and Barbara Carrow, private benefactors, the Dogfish Head Brewery company, as well as internationally renown artist, Aurelio Grisanty.
Grisanty is from the Dominican Republic. He studied at the Unversity of Mexico and worked as a graphic designer. His home is near Wagamons Pond in Milton but he operates a company called Beach Town Posters, which makes prints of Grisanty's paintings or drawings of certain beach sceneries. I met with Grisanty that night and appreciated his contribution. I definitely recommend visiting his website at: http://www.beachtownposters.com/index.cfm.