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The BestFest in the West

Movies are a major industry in California. Many people come to California to direct, produce, write, and act. There are good reasons that so many movies are made in California. The climate is warm and sunny, and directors can film scenes in the desert, the mountains, valleys, and plains—without ever leaving the state!

Some famous filmmakers, like George Lucas, were born in California. Others come to study at film schools. All filmmakers need to work hard. Only a small number will become successful. Even fewer will become famous.

Behind the Scenes at BestFest

One way filmmakers let others know about their movies is by entering film festivals. Film festivals give moviemakers a chance to show off their work and win awards. The BestFest Student Film Festival in San Diego, like other film festivals, encourages moviemakers to submit their work for judging. The filmmakers who enter BestFest, however, are still in high school and college. The very best of these student films are shown to audiences and given awards.

Started in 1999 by the Visual Arts Foundation in San Diego, BestFest began as a small program to support San Diego film students. Then, in 2005, BestFest began accepting entries from all across the country. More than 800 films were submitted from 19 states. Only 51 were chosen to be shown at the three-day festival in July. BestFest is now the country's largest contest for high school and college filmmakers.

Mike Roddy, 18, won a first-place award at the 2005 BestFest. He told Weekly Reader that having his movie play in a theater was a great experience. “You work really hard on a project, and [normally] only a close group of friends sees it,” says Roddy, who lives in San Diego. “So it's nice to screen it for [show it to] a wider audience.”

Learning the Film Business

BestFest's goal is educational, says David Larson, the executive director. The point is to help students learn by getting feedback for their work. The guidelines are very clear. Only students can enter the festival, and their movies cannot be longer than 30 minutes. The judges for each film explain what the student did right and what they might change. The judges want to help students improve.

48 Hours of Madness

Students can enter films in several categories, including Comedy, Drama, Horror and Thriller, Experimental, Documentary, and Music Video. One of the most popular categories is 48 Hours of Madness. Teams of filmmakers gather at 4 p.m. on a Friday. Each team is given the same five-page script. They then have 48 hours to make a five-minute movie based on that script. The contestants can change every word of the script if they want to, but the movie has to tell the same basic story as the script they were given.

Festival Reviews

Larson says that BestFest tries to treat student filmmakers like professionals. “They have their own filmmakers' lounge,” he says. “They get to introduce their films. [The movies are] screened in their entirety [full length]. The audiences are selecting audience choices, and we have a big awards ceremony at the end.”

Roddy says that winning at BestFest does not make you an overnight celebrity, but he believes student filmmakers can learn a lot from the festival. “It does really give you an idea of what you're up against,” Roddy says. “It gives you an introduction to the whole atmosphere [of filmmaking]. Overall, I think it's definitely a positive experience.”