After almost a year of planning and thinking through countless details, Ellery Futch, a junior, was poised as she welcomed guests for the inaugural Fairfield County Flix Fest (FFF)—a film festival for teens. More than 100 student filmmakers from all over the area along with their friends and families streamed into the Performing Arts Center on May 6 for an evening of creativity, mingling, and to watch each other’s movies.
“The energy in the room was great,” said Ellery. “It was amazing to have an event where I got to meet so many fellow film-makers from other schools and we all made connections.”
Last spring, Ellery made a movie that she wanted to submit to a film festival but she couldn’t find one locally that was geared towards teens. At the same time, Ellery, then a sophomore, was thinking about an idea for her Junior Thesis project. A requirement of every 11th grader, the Junior Thesis is a guided, year-long program intended to be a highly personalized, transformative experience that, in addition to a written component, can take many forms.
“I saw a need and wanted to create this opportunity for others like me,” said Ellery. “I pitched the idea of creating a film festival to a couple of teachers, including the thesis coordinator, and they were supportive. My vision from the get-go was to create a sense of community outside of school where young filmmakers could get inspiration from one another.”
The work of creating the event required months of research, planning, and hustle. Ellery began by talking to a lot of experts in the field, researching other successful youth film festivals in the country, and asking for advice.
“After all of the research, I made a plan,” said Ellery.
Ellery contacted local schools and filmmakers to solicit sub-missions, worked with the GCDS Communications Team to market the event, reached out to the alumni community for experts in the field (see sidebar), found a keynote speaker, and handled all of the day-of-event logistics.
In the end, there were approximately 60 film submissions from a range of schools, including Greenwich High School, Westhill High School, Sacred Heart Greenwich, Brunswick School, Greenwich Academy, and others. They included short films, documentaries, PSAs, and animation shorts. (See sidebar for winners.)
“She undertook what was, by all accounts, a massive and unwieldy project—literally initiating and producing a film festival for all of Fairfield County,” said Louise Wales, Upper School Visual Arts Teacher and Ellery’s Junior Thesis Advisor. “Every single day, Ellery checked her lists and followed up with stakeholders. She unrelentingly pursued her goals and succeeded. The event was flawless and, to her great credit, was met with enthusiasm from all who participated.”
Ellery’s biggest challenge and area of growth was actively working with people outside the school community. “Connecting with people who are not in my school was a big learning curve because not everyone is nice to you. It was the real world. Things are different and more serious when you are working with adults. I sent emails to judges who have jobs and things to do, and they needed to have things on time. There’s a different level of accountability. In the end, I’m responsible. I can’t get an extension.”
While Ellery led the effort, she said she learned quickly that she couldn’t achieve her vision without a team. She was assisted by a group of dedicated volunteers, including her twin sister Annabelle. “I learned a lot about what I can do with the support of a community. I can’t believe how much we were able to achieve when we set our minds to this.”
Ellery, working with school administrators, has worked out a plan that ensures the continuity of the film festival. The Upper School is offering a film class for the first time next school year, and the students in the class will run the festival. As a senior, Ellery will serve as a teaching assistant.
“I remember wanting a film program before the high school was even a high school,” said Ellery. “I’m thrilled that this festival will continue for years to come.”
FLIX FEST GUEST SPEAKER DAVID LEVIEN
David Levien told aspiring filmmakers that there are three key ways to enter the business: 1. “Write your way in” and make sure and read “a ton” of scripts. 2. “Shoot your way in” by creating your own projects and make sure and watch lots of movies. 3. “Work your way in” through a production company or agency, for example. Beyond that, he advised: “The most important thing is to tap into your creativity and find a voice that is unique, a voice that only you have.”
Mr. Levien, the FFF guest speaker, is a screenwriter, director, producer, and novelist. He is co-creator, executive producer, and show runner of Showtime’s Billions, along with Brian Koppelman. Over the past two decades, Mr. Levien has created an influential and diverse body of work in both film and television. Some of his most noteworthy credits include Ocean’s Thirteen, Rounders, Solitary Man, The Illusionist, Runaway Jury, Tilt, and ESPN’s 30 for 30 (This Is What They Want) for which he won a Sports Emmy. His latest show is Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber, which will air on Showtime soon. Mr. Levien is a GCDS parent of 7th grader Robbie, Joseph ’18, and James ’23.