For the Future By Amy Mathews Amos
A FEW WEEKS AGO, I was clearing out clutter
in my den and found, tucked away on various shelves of our television stand, old DVDs—remnants of past seasons of Shepherdstown’s American Conservation Film Festival (ACFF). I’ve served on the Selection and Programming Committee of ACFF for six years now, and although I’m supposed to return all copies of our films once I’ve finished reviewing them, I’ve hung on to some that I particularly liked. But that cleaning day was time for some serious culling. So I flipped through the piles one more time to make sure there weren’t any films I couldn’t bear to lose. There were only two. And both were student films. Student films have been part of ACFF almost since it began 13 years ago. If we want good films in the future, then we need to nurture the next generation of filmmakers now. Not an easy task. A good conservation film can educate, inform and inspire, as we at ACFF like to say, and so the karmic benefits are great. But the pay is lousy. Like most artists, filmmakers create their works because it’s their passion, not because it’s lucrative. As in other artistic fields, filmmakers often end up leaving their passion for other work that actually pays the bills.
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So each year, to support particularly promising young filmmakers, ACFF presents a $500 award for the best student film of the festival—an award generously funded by the Friends of the National Conservation Training Center. But often we struggle to cover that student’s travel expenses to attend the festival and receive the award. This year, in memory of ACFF Board Member Alex Kemnitzer, we’re adding a new component to our student support. The Alex Kemnitzer Emerging Filmmaker Fund (sidebar, page 47) will allow ACFF to bring more student filmmakers to the festival each year and cover their tuition to our Conservation Filmmakers Workshops. Those workshops allow students to learn new skills while networking with professional filmmakers. ACFF’s selectors are a little more forgiving on student submissions, accepting some films that otherwise wouldn’t make the cut. But student submissions also reveal stark contrasts in talent, and almost every year at least one student film stands out. Those standout films aren’t just top student films, they’re top films for the entire festival. This year’s student award winner, White Earth, is one of those: It already has won 12 awards at film festivals around the