Film Festivals Allow Young Filmmakers to Blossom

Berlinale’s 2017 Generation program highlights youth-oriented films.

My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea

This morning, Variety reported that the Berlin Film Festival announced a number of films that will be screened as part of the 2017 iteration of their Generation program. Generation focuses on films geared towards young people, and is divided into two sections: Kplus, for children’s films, and 14plus, centered around teenagers.

The program will include Michael Winterbottom’s music documentary On the Road, Carol Salter’s Almost Heaven, Kriv Stenders’ Red Dog: True Blue, and the splashy animated film My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea. All of these films focus on young people, and include a wide range of performers and filmmakers getting to showcase their talents for the first time.

TIFF, Berlinale, Sundance, and Telluride have been providing young filmmakers with opportunities to develop and show their work since these festivals were founded. TIFF’s Next Wave Film Festival is entirely focused on youthful audiences and films, and is organized by teenagers aged 15–18, who program films and events, allowing them to gain experience in the film industry. Sundance’s talent lab programs provide resources to young directors, screenwriters, and editors, thus opening up opportunities for budding independent filmmakers. In 2011, Ryan Coogler worked with the Screenwriter’s Lab while writing his film Fruitvale Station, which went on to receive enthusiastic critical acclaim, as well as the Best First Feature prize at the Independent Spirit Awards.

Film festival groups are aware of the platform they can provide for emerging filmmakers to get their work seen – opportunities that are vital in an industry as hard to break into as film. By centering programs and labs around young people, film festivals open up the industry to innovation, fresh perspectives, and give opportunities to people who would otherwise be considered “outsiders.”

Barry Jenkins, the brilliant director of Medicine for Melancholy and 2016’s cinematic crown jewel, Moonlight, started out his career at the Telluride student symposium when he was only 23. He returned to the festival year after year, working as an intern, a concession manager, and a short film curator. Telluride nurtured Jenkins’ passion for filmmaking, and inspired him to follow his dream of bringing his own work to Telluride for a world premiere – which, of course, he did this year with Moonlight.

Festivals shine a spotlight on both youth-oriented films and young filmmakers and performers. Barry Jenkins represents just one of many success stories to come out of the festival world. Others include Canadian director Xavier Dolan, whose films have been championed at Cannes, and Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, focusing on 12 years in the life of young actor Ellar Coltrane and a great success at Sundance. If festivals continue to support young talent, the film world will never be lacking in unique and innovative works.

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