By Amanda Dyslin
---- — “Draw, Don't Speak” is a short film about an introverted high school boy who starts to develop a crush when one of his drawings makes its way into the hands of a classmate.
One of the judges of the Speechless Film Festival, Minnesota State University English Professor Donna Casella, watched it numerous times, writing that she had a smile on her face the entire time.
“I loved this little film,” she wrote.
The 10-minute film was created by Griffin Huber, and it won in the student division of the Narrative category at this year's film festival, to be held Thursday through Saturday in downtown Mankato.
And that's just one poignant film among dozens to be showcased in the old Maverick 4 Theatres location in Mankato Place.
“Still,” the winner in the professional division of the Narrative category, is a 17-minute short by William Lu that uses dance movement as dialogue, telling the story of a “relationship stuck in a cycle of what seems to be another mundane day.”
In the Animation/Experimental category, “Displacements,” by Manuel Alvarez Diestro, won in the professional division with a nine-minute film that focuses on Hong Kong's dense population and a world in which the living coexist with the dead. The student winner in that category, Prasad Narse, created a five-minute film called “I M Possible,” which follows a basketball star who spent a year in a wheelchair after a terrible accident.
Besides just being well-made films that will be among those to receive trophies and cash prizes, the above all having something important in common when it comes to entrance into the Speechless Film Festival: They focus on visual storytelling rather than relying on dialogue, said Kurt Paulsen, assistant professor of media arts at Bethany Lutheran College.
Despite the moniker “Speechless,” the films don't have to be silent. When Paulsen was first dreaming up the concept before the first year of the festival last year, he wanted to host a film festival that filled a niche in the heavily populated festival circuit. And no one seemed to be doing films that placed heavy emphasis on visual presentation.
Other than that, the content is entirely up to the filmmaker.
Last year Paulsen and others at Bethany put the first festival together in just several months. Mankato-area residents and those interested in film festivals from other places far and wide didn't have much time to learn what the festival was all about. So attendance wasn't great, Paulsen said.
“It was presumptuous in the first year to assume people would travel for something they'd never heard of,” he said.
But this year the Speechless folks have put more time and effort into creating a festival catered to a local audience and that gives people three days to come out and see the films.
Instead of two long days of film screenings, there will be two-hour blocks of film screenings Thursday and Friday nights, as well as screenings during the day Saturday. Programs will be made available in the lobby for attendants to read about the films and decide which block of screenings they want to attend. The winning films will be repeated throughout the festival to give attendees multiple opportunities to see them.
“It's more of an entertainment format,” Paulsen said. “It really aligns with the 'going out for the evening' kind of set up.”
The festival is also partnering with Pub 500 for “after parties” on Thursday and Friday with live music. The awards ceremony and festival culmination will be held at 8 p.m. Saturday at the bar. To promote the partnership and the festival, video art displays will be projected on Pub 500's windows this week.
Also new this year is a Made in Minnesota category in the festival that Paulsen suspects will be of interest to people. The winning film is called “June,” created by Ted and Tonya Wittman of Waseca. The film is about a young woman who becomes paranoid as she explores home in southern Minnesota.
There will also be a theater dedicated solely as a “lecture hall” with speakers who have varying backgrounds in film. Among them are Ryan Sturgis, who works in film art direction and worked on “Fargo” and “Grumpier Old Men,” among others. Wes Schuck, founder of No Alternative Media and Two Fish Studios in Mankato, will talk about the post-production process in filmmaking.
Steve Corona, a Bethany alum, is a voice and screen actor. He's had bit parts in such shows as “Breaking Bad” and such movies as “Crash” and “The Lone Ranger.” During the festival, he'll provide a behind the scenes look at Hollywood sets.
Paulsen said those special guests and others will give talks that are accessible to a wide audience, and not technical in nature so that they're only of interest to film or production students and professionals.
This year the festival received more than 100 submissions from 27 countries, and about 55 films were admitted to the festival. Judges are faculty from Gustavus Adolphus College, South Central College, MSU, Bethany and United International College in Xhuhai, China.
Student winners in each category will receive $500, and professional winners will receive $1,000 (except for the Made in Minnesota category, for which the prize is $500). There also will be a separate overall high school category with an award of a $2,000 scholarship to Bethany and a camera.
If you go What Speechless Film Festival When/Where Thursday through Saturday at the old Maverick 4 Theatres in Mankato Place For a detailed schedule, visit speechlessfilmfestival.com. Tickets $15 for an all-access pass; $5 for a single showcase ticket; $10 for an all-access pass with a student ID. Tickets are available at both Mankato HyVee customer service desks and at the door.