Pilgrimages – “Tower of Youth Festival”

indexTower of Youth Festival 2014

By Daniel Barnes

This Friday, the Crest Theatre in Sacramento will host the 18th annual Tower of Youth Festival, a one-day event that showcases the best teen-made short films and documentaries in the United States and Canada. I wrote about last year’s event for the Sacramento News & Review, so check that out HERE for a little more background on the festival and to read me behaving like a wiseacre. Over 600 students and teachers are bussed in for the event, and in addition to the film screenings, representatives from major California film schools will be present.

Thanks to the generosity of Dr. William Bronston, the event organizer and Tower of Youth C.E.O., I was able to screen a wide swath of the 30 films that will show at Friday’s festival. The selections from this year’s event are even stronger than last year’s, more cinematic and more assured in their storytelling, while still speaking directly to the hopes and fears of modern adolescents.

Here are a few of my favorites that will be screening at the festival:

Outward (Dir.: Noah Bartel, Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston) – Opening with a Kurt Vonnegut quote, this sci-fi mindmelt features some very powerful visuals of sinister alien landscapes, and creates an inscrutably unsettling vibe.

Descending (Dir.: Jake Whitlock, Raw Art Works & Real to Reel Film School in Lynn, MA) – A teased-out poetic metaphor about descending under the weight of peer pressure narrated over a teased-out visual metaphor about scuba diving deep beneath the surface; merciless in the execution.

Blockbusted (Dir.: August Blum, Ulysse Silva, George Khabbaz, Lauren Morgenbesser, Sarah McCallister, and Itai Lev, Harvard Westlake School in Studio City, CA) – There were several media-savvy satires among this year’s crop, and Blockbusted was the best, an endlessly inventive black-and-white throwback to classic Hollywood that fights for the future of cinema’s soul.

2 by 2 (Dir.: Ruby Drake, Grover Cleveland High School in Reseda, CA) – The strongest merger of visual and narrative ingenuity, a 7-minute hyperlink ensemble epic told simultaneously in four separate quadrants of the screen.

Pulling (Dir.: Andrew Robbin, San Francisco Film & Art for Teenagers) – An absolutely devastating short about a self-loathing girl who obsessively pulls out her own hair, as well as the hair of her dolls; a creepy yet empathetic take on self-mutilation that is fully realized in under five minutes.

Once Upon a Childhood (Dir.: Sarah McAllister and Marcella Park, Harvard Westlake School in Studio City, CA) – The winner of my own personal jury prize, a powerful documentary about poor Laotian families still dealing with the aftereffects of the Vietnam War, as tens of millions of buried and unexploded cluster bombs make their children’s lives a literal minefield.  It’s a sensitive and clear-headed take on a very difficult subject, and a validation of everything this festival stands for.

*The 18th Annual North American All Youth Film and Education Day Super Reel (aka The Tower of Youth Festival) takes place from 8:30am to 4:30pm on Friday, October 3, at the Crest Theatre in Sacramento. Tickets can be purchased at the box office, $15 for adults and $10 for youths.