Sopris Sun Article: YouthZone Film Festival Takes Students to New Heights


YouthZone Film Festival Takes Students to New Heights

News By Kate Phillips Published Sep. 21, 2022

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Levi Friday (left) and Nico Passerini Burks were all smiles at last year’s Ascent Youth Film Festival award ceremony. Expect to see those smiles again when they present their newest films at this year’s festival. Courtesy photo

Prepare to be inspired and entertained as student filmmakers from the Roaring Fork Valley and across the country take center stage at the third annual YouthZone Ascent Youth Film Festival. The film festival doubles as a fundraiser, and will celebrate the students’ hard work and creativity at The Orchard in Carbondale on Sept. 30.

“This is a project for the youth and the families in our communities, but it’s also by the youth of our communities,” said YouthZone Development Director Carol Wolff. “It is a fundraiser for YouthZone, which is here to support our families and that in turn creates stronger communities.”

Ascent stays true to YouthZone’s core mission — to be a family-first nonprofit that fosters positive youth development from Aspen to Parachute — by offering an artistic outlet for students to shine. Ranging in age from 12 to 18, each student creates a film that puts their interests at the forefront. The films can be a linear story or abstract piece, and special talents such as music, writing, poetry, photography, video or animation bring the films to life.

Noting the specific age range, Wolff said that teenagers often need multiple ways to express themselves, and that this film festival is a fun and impactful opportunity for them to share their passion with their parents and peers.

“It’s exciting and it’s fun for them to show off their work because a lot of times their parents don’t really know what they put together until they watch it,” Wolff laughed. “They have their peers there and other people that they don’t even know. It’s a lot of fun.”

She continued, “The kids are just excited to put together a film, and that’s their way of expressing themselves […] Art is a huge way for kids to express themselves.”

The students begin the process at the start of the summer, and must submit one draft by mid-July before submitting their final cut on Aug. 26. Students who complete their film receive a cash prize and participate in an awards ceremony at the end of the festival. Throughout the process, two noteworthy film industry professionals mentor the students.

This year, YouthZone collaborated with Emmy-nominee Katherine Roberts, founder and CEO of Carington Creative, and the award-winning president of the Colorado Film and Video Association, Rob Shearer. Together, the mentors discussed project ideas with the students, offered technical film support and helped with editing.

Student filmmaker Luca Passerini Burks said it took him some time to finalize his film’s story, but he worked with Shearer who helped shape his ideas into a movie that would be suitable for the targeted audience while also staying true to Passerini Burks’ vision.

His film, “The Clone”, will keep audiences on the edge of their seats as a riveting battle unfolds between the film’s main character and an unexpected clone of himself. According to Passerini Burks, creating such a film was difficult, but he was able to work hard and learn something new in the process. For him, filmmaking has been a long time passion, and Ascent is a great chance to continue pursuing his dreams.

“I’ve always wanted people to see my films, and not just make them so my family can see them,” he said. “It was really cool to see my brother’s film up there in front of 100 people [last year], and I can’t imagine my film being up there. That would just be so awesome.”

Noting the challenges that come with filmmaking, Passerini Burks enthusiastically offered encouragement and advice for future student filmmakers. “Don’t give up easily, don’t cut corners, make a good effort and make a good film,” he said. “And if your film isn’t that good, keep trying and maybe someday you’ll get the big shot!”

This year, Ascent offers a hybrid viewing experience where community members can participate either in-person or virtually after the live showing. The in-person watch party will also have a silent auction that includes donations from local businesses and individuals. Wolff said that Ascent’s sponsors and silent auction donors are very generous and YouthZone is deeply grateful for their support.

All donations from the event will go directly toward YouthZone programming such as youth advocacy, restorative justice, substance intervention and education, LGBTQ+ support and one-on-one coaching for parents and youth alike.

For tickets and more information, visit