Third NEPA Film Festival Wraps Up In Scranton

March 25, 2019
Third NEPA Film Festival Wraps Up In Scranton

SCRANTON — A spoon. A lighter. And white socks.

Those are just three of the objects that filmmakers were required to use in a short film for the Northeast Pennsylvania Film Festival’s Mystery Box Challenge competition.

The three-day festival, in its third year, wrapped up Sunday at the PNC Auditorium at the University of Scranton.

A part of the festival since its inception in 2016, the Mystery Box Challenge is open to teams of filmmakers in the region and beyond. In September, participants attended a luncheon at Tomato Bar in Pittston, where they received a cardboard box filled with objects to include in the film, said Desiree Zielinski, a film festival volunteer who helps coordinate the event.

The items ranged from props to character names and lines of dialogue. All teams received the same objects, Zielinski said. Films were restricted to no longer than 10 minutes.

But the real challenge was that filmmakers only had four months to write a script, cast the roles, shoot the film and edit it. In the end, five films of various genres made it to the screen Sunday, helmed by independent and student filmmakers.

Wyoming Seminary Upper School’s Film Club went the horror route with their submission, “Lockdown.” The short film follows a group of students at the mercy of an unknown terror at their school, filmed on the Kingston school’s grounds.

For Wyoming Sem student Yifei Liu, 15, from Beijing, China, “Lockdown” marked her first time directing. Liu said the hardest part of working within the time constraint was writing the script.

With so many students involved in the film, “it took us a long time to decide on a topic and keep going with it,” Liu said. “The script took us about two months to get done,” which cut into their shooting time.

Liu said the lighter was one of the hardest objects the students had to work into the movie, as “people shouldn’t have those in school.”

Hope Austin, 15, of Kingston, who stars in “Lockdown,” isn’t a fan of horror movies, preferring romantic comedies or musicals. But the Wyoming Sem student said the theme of “Lockdown” taps into a real-life fear facing students as school shootings happen with alarming frequency across the nation.

“It was really important for us to take on the idea of lockdowns as that’s so prevalent in our country right now,” Austin said.

The Movie Box Challenge also gives the area’s independent filmmakers a venue to have their work seen by a local audience.

Wilkes-Barre filmmaker Anthony Cutro is hoping his work will receive more exposure from the festival. The Luzerne County Community College graduate has worked off and on as a cameraman for 25 years.

His short film, “The Cereal Killer,” blends mystery and comedy as two police officers team up to solve a murder.

The Movie Box Challenge doesn’t have a winner as that’s not really what the competition is about, Zielinski said. “The challenge is all about fostering creativity, getting people together to network to make films and then show them off to the community.”

“People just want to see the local community shine at the festival,” Zielinski said.

In addition to the popular Mystery Box Challenge, the day’s events included a panel discussion, “The Digital Age of Filmmaking 2.0,” with documentary filmmakers from VIA Global Studios, the production arm of WVIA-TV, and a block of films screened from NEPA filmmakers.

Film festival officials Sunday lauded this year’s offerings a success.

On Saturday, a book discussion with Charles Brandt, author of “I Heard You Paint Houses,” which has local ties and is the foundation for an upcoming movie from director Martin Scorsese, and the NEPA premiere screening of “The Pretender,” a documentary about Scranton native Mike Kunda’s dream to follow in the footsteps of his on-screen idol, Rocky Balboa, both sold out.

“We’re so excited and elated that it’s turned out as it has,” said Wendy Wilson, Northeast Pennsylvania Film Festival spokeswoman.

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