Tag Archives: Westport Youth Film Festival

The Beatles Visit Westport

More than 45 years after it supposedly happened, whether the Beatles actually visited Murray the K* at his Bluewater Hill home is up for debate.

But no one can deny that without Westporter Al Brodax, “Yellow Submarine” would never have left the dock.

In the late 1960s, Brodax was head of King Features’ motion picture/TV division. He pitched the idea of a full-length film based on the song of the same name to the Beatles. (I’m sure he knew someone who knew someone who…)

The Beatles agreed to provide music for the animated film. (It was also a way to fulfill their contractual obligation to United Artists.) With Brodax serving as producer, “Yellow Submarine” was released to critical acclaim in 1968.

(Full disclosure: I always thought “Yellow Submarine” was the worst song in the entire Beatles discography. I had no desire to see the film, then or now.)

Brodax went on to produce, write and direct several Emmy-winning TV shows, including “Make a Wish” and “Animals, Animals, Animals.”

Al Brodax (Photo/Carol King)

In 2004 he wrote Up Periscope Yellow: The Making of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. (Full disclosure: I have not read it, nor do I plan to.)

But Brodax is a great guy. He’s still around — though he’s migrated north, to Weston — and this Friday, April 13 (Westport Arts Center, 7 p.m.), the Westport Youth Film Festival will sponsor a fundraiser: the film, followed by a discussion with Brodax.

There’s also music by local bands, and (yeah, yeah, yeah) food.

The cost is $15 for adults, $10 for students. Because it’s a benefit for the WYFF (with live music), I’m guessing there will be lots of teenagers in the crowd.

As in, “kids who are Beatles fans, even if they were born 30 years after the Beatles may or may not have visited Murray the K* in Westport.”

*Murray the K was a famous DJ.**

**DJ as in “radio disc jockey,” not “someone who plays music at proms, weddings and bar mitzvahs.”

WYFF To BYFF?

It’s still called the Westport Youth Film Festival.  But the 9th edition this spring will take place at the Bijou Theatre in downtown Bridgeport.

The event started out in Westport, at Toquet Hall and Town Hall.  Last year it was held at Fairfield’s Community Theatre.

Sounds like a good move.

The Bijou — in downtown Bridgeport — is a beautiful, historic theater in an up-and-coming neighborhood.  Shifting the festival to a bigger, hipper location can only help the city, the festival, and everyone associated with it.

The festival showcases the work of local youngsters — and those from as far as Sweden, Israel and India.  It also includes thought-provoking panels, speakers and workshops.

Each year’s long planning process brings together teenagers from throughout Fairfield County.  The involvement of Bridge Academy — a Bridgeport charter school — is particularly important, and beneficial.

But keeping the name “Westport Youth Film Festival” is nice.  Our town no longer has a theater.  At least we can put on a show.

(For more information search “Westport Youth Film Festival” on Facebook, call 203-222-7070, or email evan@westportartscenter.org)

Take A WYFF

The first thing you should know about this Saturday’s (May 14) Westport Youth Film Festival is that it’s in Fairfield.

The 2nd is that the day-long schedule — filled with local and international films, panels, workshops, music, awards and an after-party — make it well worth your while to head east, and spend at least part of a spring Saturday indoors.

Action begins at 10 a.m.  Alternative band Move Out West plays in front of the Fairfield Community Theatre.  Simultaneously and around the corner, Las Vetas Lounge hosts a meet-‘n’-greet.

Film screenings — including comedy, drama, animation, experimental, documentary and music video — begin at 11 a.m. at the Fairfield Community Theatre.  They continue until 6 p.m.

Two of the films are by Staples students:  Matt Lindahl and Alanna Morton.

Panels include “WYFF and the Reel World” (WYFF filmmakers and alumni discuss their experiences in the field), and “My Big Break,” with Westport’s Golden Globe-nominated actress Cynthia Gibb; TV director David Straiton (“House, Dawson’s Creek”), and executive producer Mike Hausman (“Gangs of New York,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Amadeus”).

The teenagers behind WYFF

Instructional workshops — new this year — feature “How to Make a Viral Video” (taught by NYU’s Ann Lupo; $20), and “Scratch!  Paint!  Dye!” (16mm hand-painted animation, with Emerson Film School alum Sean Hanley; $25).

Emmy–nominated filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi will host the last panel of the day, “Filmmaking on the Campaign Trail.”  She’ll share her experience making political documentaries like “Journeys with George” (5:30-7 p.m., Fairfield Community Theatre).

At 7 p.m., WYFF Award-winning youth filmmakers will receive Tiffany crystal awards and cash prizes of up to $500.  Afterwards (8-9 p.m., Fairfield Arts Center), artistes and attendees celebrate at the after-party.

When directors film a scene, they yell “Action!” The young organizers of the Westport Youth Film Festival have taken that command to heart.

(Click here for full details of the day, including schedules, directions and ticket sales.)

Westport Bridges Film Gap

Sometimes a big event changes someone’s life.  For 2 Bridgeport teenagers it was attending Sundance last year, meeting directors and actors, and returning home with confidence that they too can make films.

Sometimes a little event is life-changing.  Another group of Bridgeport students needed a police officer and his car for their PSA on graffiti.  One morning spent with a real cop opened their eyes to a whole different world.

None of those experiences — and many more — would be possible without the help of Sandy Lefkowitz, and a committed group of Westporters.

Sandy Lefkowitz

Sandy is a longtime educator.  When she was coordinator of the Westport Youth Film Festival, she created filmmaking curricula.  The Westport Sunrise Rotary asked her to help with their project involving youth from disadvantaged areas.

Sandy worked with Sarah Litty — an art teacher at Bridgeport charter school  Bridge Academy — to develop a 35-week, seniors-only Art of Filmmaking course.  An after-school club for all students soon followed.

Help came from many sources.  Sunrise Rotary, the Fairfield County Community Foundation, MSG Varsity and others donated money.  Award-winning screenwriter Patrick McCullough — a Staples grad  — was hired.

Now armed with Macs, cameras and other equipment, the Bridgeport students leaped in.  They studied scriptwriting, storyboard creation, film shooting and editing.

They learned well.  The more they accomplished, the more opportunities they earned.  After Sundance, Sandy took students to the Berkshire International Film Festival.  Two were chosen for a prestigious Wesleyan program.

They walked through every door that opened.  Perhaps not confidently at first — but by the time walked back out they felt independent, and aware of all they can do.

Their filmmaking has impacted all of Bridge Academy.  Their peers see them as successful, while teachers in other subjects incorporate their talents into lesson plans.

An English class, for example, used film in a project on the civil rights movement.  Before beginning, students learned how to conduct an interview.

Junior girls in another class made a film on nutrition.  Sandy took them to an organic meat farm, and a hospital to meet a nutritionist.  “They’re using resources outside their community, to bring something back to their community,” she notes.

Another resource is Westporter Anita Schorr.  The Holocaust survivor met Bridge students at a Westport Country Playhouse production of “The Diary of Anne Frank.”  They invited her to their school, and filmed her presentation.  Now they’re creating a documentary on her experiences, with hopes of distributing it to classrooms nationwide.

The Academy’s film program has been a true bridge — between students and the rest of the school and city, and between Bridgeport and Westport.  Two Bridge students now sit on the WYFF board.  Others are collaborating with WYFF (and Westport writer/director Doug Tirola) on a promotional film about the arts.

“They see themselves as colleagues,” Sandy says proudly.

And — one day — they may be back at Sundance, debuting a film to an international audience.

(The Art of Filmmaking and Westport Youth Film Festival are programs of the Westport Arts Center, and receive funding from WAC’s fundraising efforts.)

Take A WYFF

Harvey Weinstein is big (in more ways than one).

And Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Bette Davis, Liz Taylor and Marilyn Monroe are just a few of the boldface names who at one point called Westport home.

But you can spot mega-mogul movie producers and Oscar-winning actors many places besides Westport.

One thing you can’t find anywhere but here is the Westport Youth Film Festival.

Organizers call it “the only youth film festival in the world run for high school students, by high school students.”

And while Hollywood is known for hyperbole, this is Westport.  We’ll take their word for it.

The 7th annual WYFF returns this weekend.  The schedule is remarkable — and what’s even more remarkable is how few Westporters know about it.

This Friday and Saturday (May 7-8), 65 high school student films — chosen from over 200 submissions, around the world — will be shown at Town Hall and Toquet Hall. Prizes will be awarded to 9 of them.

Friday night’s highlights include 8 movies from “Peace It Together,” a Canadian program involving Canadian, Palestinian and Israeli youth — plus Q-and-As.

On Saturday — in addition to the 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. film screenings — there will be musical performances on Main Street, free popcorn and soda at Oscar’s, and t-shirt sales.  At 9 a.m. there’s a bagel breakfast with WYFF organizers and filmmakers.

The films range widely:  politics and current events; music; romance; comedy; self-discovery (hey, they’re teenagers).  At 5 p.m. Saturday Toquet hosts “The Roy Orbison Project,” spotlighting WYFF alumni including Jon Karmen and Jake Andrews of Rubydog fame.

I have no idea what the Roy Orbison Project is, but if it’s half as good as his voice, I’ll be impressed.

Tom Seligson, a Westport-based Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, keynotes Saturday’s 6 p.m. awards ceremony (Toquet).

WYFF is one of those Westport events you shouldn’t miss — though it also may be one you never heard of.

And even if the tagline — “the only youth film festival in the world run for high school students, by high school students” — is not true, this one may be:  “The only youth film festival in the world in a town without an actual movie theater.”

(For the WYFF YouTube trailer, click here.  For a detailed schedule of events, click here.)

Inspiring Teens To Tell Their Tales

Tracy Sugarman and Bill Buckley have spent their lives using film, words and illustrations to affect social change.

Bill Buckley trains his camera on the past -- and the future

Bill Buckley trains his camera on the past -- and the future

Now in their 80s — but not slowing down — they brought their 20-minute film, “Immigrant from America,” to the Westport Arts Center last night.  Their mission:  to inspire youngsters from Westport and Bridgeport to keep up the fight.

About 20 students from Bridge Academy — the renowned Bridgeport charter school — and 10 involved with the Westport Youth Film Festival watched the documentary, a probing look at how African Americans used education, economic strength and politics to overcome racial barriers.

Tracy and Bill then led a discussion about stereotypes that remain, 40 years after their film was made.  They challenged the teenagers from both communities to look outside themselves, and work toward a better world.

The filmmakers urged the Westport and Bridgeport youngsters to tell their own stories.  They can use traditional mediums like movies, art and literature, new ones like computer graphics and the internet — and those that have not yet been invented.

Everyone has something to say.  Personal stories are powerful.  After hearing from 2 men who have spent decades telling their own stories, and helping others tell theirs, last night’s audience seems ready to pick up the torch.

Today WYFF; Tomorrow The World

Saturday’s Westport Youth Film Festival featured dozens of entrants from around the country.  Among the winners:  1 from our backyard.

“Buck ‘Em Down” — filmed and edited by Staples juniors Michael Holmes and Josh Rauh — was named “Best Music Video.”  If you know that calling it “dope” is high praise, then you should check it out on YouTube.

I don’t understand rap, and god willing I never will.  But I do understand teenagers’ passions, and “Buck ‘Em Down” is a success story not only for its 2 creators, but for senior Mike Bowen as well.

The video features Nero, a young rapper from New York City who is being promoted by Mike. He organized the filming session in Stamford, and gave it much of its gritty look.

Mike Waxx

Mike Waxx

Mike — who is also known by his nom de rap, Mike Waxx — is president of Illroots ( “ill” is high praise too — go figure).  He  worked as hard at building his business as other Stapleites work at physics, theater, debate or swimming.  Mike does it all:  He promotes artists, is a mixtape DJ, and is a tremendously talented graphic designer (example below).

His website is professional, wide-ranging, great-looking.  And if I knew anything about hip hop, I’m sure I would find it highly informative too.

With 4 million hits, it is also one of the top-rated hip-hop blogs in the world.

Mike has not created his business in a vacuum.  Staples courses like digital darkroom, design and technology, and audio production gave him the tools he needed.  But he did the rest.

As graduation nears, much attention is focused — rightly — on the high honors students, the ones going to Harvard and Stanford, the young men and women who are “leaders of tomorrow.”

Quietly, in their own way, the Mike Bowens of the world are making their mark too.  Somewhere along the way they found something they love, and they embraced it with all their heart.

I look forward to hearing from them in the years to come.  Even if, in the case of Mike, I’m not exactly sure what I’m listening to.

One of Mike's mixtapes

One of Mike's mixtapes

Curtain Rises On Youth Film Festival

Tomorrow, Westporters will flock to beaches, ball games and the dump.

Many others will head indoors.

Westport Youth Film FestivalThey’ll joyfully spend all day in darkened rooms, watching dozens of films made by teenagers.

For 6 years, the Westport Youth Film Festival has been created and managed by youngsters.  Coordinator Sandy Lefkowitz — one of the few adults involved — says that sometimes means things are “not as professional as I would like.”

But, she notes, “the kids are incredible — and learning.”

WYFF — which exclusively screens films by high school (even middle school) students — lacks the budget of festivals run by colleges and community organizations.

But those other festivals use WYFF as a resource.  And — try as they might — they don’t attract the number of films WYFF does.

Because of WYFF, Sandy has developed a curriculum called “The Art of Filmmaking” for Bridgeport’s Bridge Academy charter school.  It provides interaction between filmmakers in various towns, and gives Bridge students a chance to enter WYFF.

This is the 1st year of its 3-year program (funded by Westport Sunrise Rotary and the Fairfield County Foundation).  Sandy calls it “very successful.”

As is the Westport Youth Film Festival.  For tomorrow’s full schedule (10 a.m.-5:20 p.m. at Town Hall; 10:30 a.m.-5:45 p.m. at Toquet Hall; awards ceremony at 6:30 p.m.), click here.