Third annual LAVA Center film fest looks to showcase diverse styles


For the Recorder

Published: 07-09-2023 12:26 PM

GREENFIELD — The LAVA Center is accepting submissions for its third annual film festival, an event dedicated to capturing the power of diverse filmmaking styles, according to LAVA Center manager and festival co-director Vanessa Query.

Youth, college student and adult filmmakers can submit their films, of any length, subject or style, until July 30. The films will be shown at The LAVA Center, 324 Main St., on Sept. 22 and 23.

Youth filmmakers can submit their films for free, but college students and adults must pay $15 to submit by the July 30 regular deadline. The early bird deadline has passed.

Query said that she and local filmmaker and festival co-director Wally Marzano-Lesnevich include films of all types and welcome filmmakers of all ages to “cast as wide a net as possible.”

“I want it to be as accessible as possible,” Query said. “I want people to feel like they can participate at whatever level they’re at.”

A “theatermaker and moviemaker” herself, Query said the age range clears space for not only professional filmmakers and film students, but also the “middle ground” or the “hobby filmmakers — people who just wanted to do it for fun and not necessarily be professional, or people who were working their way up to being professional, but didn’t necessarily have the money, the budget, the equipment to make really polished movies.”

With the rise of smartphones and YouTube, Query said this middle ground is growing.

“Almost anyone can make a video now with their phone, basic editing stuff, and they can put it on YouTube, but then who’s going to see it?” Query asked. “They send the link to their friends, but to actually have it screened in a venue with a live audience is really powerful. I think a lot of those middle-ground filmmakers don’t get to experience that.”

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Last year, participating filmmakers ranged from 10 to 70 years old with films across five genres. Query said the third annual festival will likely resemble last year’s setup of separate hour-and-a-half blocks of either comedies, animated films, dramas, experimental films or PG-13 films — a content warning for those visiting the “kid-friendly” LAVA Center.

Query said short films that were between 5 and 20 minutes long flooded their inbox last year, a trend that allowed for a “nice program” of screening blocks.

After the filmmakers submit their projects, the selection committee screens the films and rates their priority level, setting films with lower ratings aside unless the festival lineup allows room. Query said the selection committee is not finalized yet, but will likely include last year’s group of herself, Marzano-Lesnevich, Greenfield Community College English professor and “film buff” Lillian Ruiz, and one or two additions.

“We all have different backgrounds, so we all look at subjectively different things,” said Query, adding that Marzano-Lesnevich evaluates the filmmaking and Ruiz watches “through specifically a spectator” point of view. Query described herself as being “in between.”

“We’re not judging it by the quality of the equipment that they are using or anything like that,” she emphasized. “It’s more what resonates with us and what we think will add to the general vibe that we are going for. … We want it to include a range.”

Although the festival showcases filmmakers of different ages, experience levels and styles, each project encapsulates a passion for film.

“The one thing everyone has in common is their enthusiasm,” Query said. “Everyone is just doing this because they love it and they want to do it, and they want to play around with the form and experiment and tell stories in these really unique ways.”

While last year’s film festival spanned four days, this year’s festival will only last two days to ease the trip for visiting filmmakers and attract more spectators, according to Query. She said “a fantastic turnout” of about 200 people attended last year’s event, including around 50 people who were involved in making the 23 films and 100 to 150 audience members. Query expects more people this year after last year’s festival stirred “a lot of buzz” amongst its filmmakers, some of whom have already submitted films again this year.

Local Filmmakers’ Series

She also attributed the shortening of the festival to The LAVA Center’s new Local Filmmakers’ Series, which starts July 13, from 6 to 8 p.m. Each of the series’ four Thursday nights will feature a Pioneer Valley filmmaker and their project and process, such as the original illustrations of an animated short film. On the first night of the series, Query will share her five short films set in Ohio or Greenfield, as well as “crazy stories” from filming.

Query said the majority of the participants will showcase animated films, but emphasized that even this category is diverse with a 10-year-old’s claymation and “professional-level animation by adult illustrators.”

“As an artist and as an artist promoter and artist cheerleader, I’ve always loved it when arts spaces focus on the community of the arts, rather than on any one particular form or particular experience level,” Query said. “To have it all together can make it really powerful.”