THE LOUISIANA FILM PRIZE: NORTH AMERICA’S MOST UNUSUAL FILM FEST

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Now readying for its ninth edition, the Louisiana Film Prize has just put out the call for submissions for its 2020 competition to be held in Shreveport, Louisiana, from Oct 1 to 3.

The Louisiana Film Prize is unique among the 8,500 annual film festivals currently staged across North America. It is actually a year-long process that involves filmmakers in the production of a short film to be entered into competition for a $50,000 award that’s all cash and is given without restrictions on use. It is the world’s largest award presented for a short film, and it is the only one that requires production of a film specifically for the competition.

Shreveport filmmaker and cultural activist Gregory Kallenberg conceived of the idea when he was approached by city authorities for help in establishing a local film festival for Louisiana’s third largest city.

“I thought we should have something that makes Shreveport stand out. The Louisiana Film Prize was a different kind of film celebration that would actually foster local filmmakers and bring others to Northern Louisiana, developing film production in our area.” says Kallenberg, whose philanthropically-minded family has long supported Shreveport’s cultural scene.

The city embraced Kallenberg’s idea and community support for the Louisiana Film Prize has consistently grown since the festival was established eight years ago with an operating budget of about $80,000 – much of it from Kallenberg’s own coffers. Indicating the Film Prize’s tremendous growth, the 2019 budget was up to about $600,000, most of it provided by corporate and private sponsors and the City of Shreveport.

Film submission has several requirements. The shorts must be between five and fifteen minutes long and, most importantly, they must have been filmed in Northwest Louisiana. Filmmakers who intend to submit shorts for the competition must register with the Film Prize Foundation before they begin shooting their projects. For that, there is a $50 registration fee. There is no limit to the number of shorts a filmmaker may submit.

Hence the aforementioned call for submissions.

“There was so much excitement surrounding the competition in 2019 that we wanted to open registration immediately to capitalize on that energy,” says Kallenberg. “With finalists last year coming from across the country, as well as Australia and London, we also want to ensure that filmmakers have as much time as possible to complete their films.”

Gregory Kallenberg

Registration is now open to all filmmakers at lafilmprize.com. Filmmakers interested in participating can register online with projects to create an original narrative short film in the designated filming zone in northwest Louisiana. While production must take place in northwest Louisiana, pre- and post-production work may occur in any location. Rough cuts are due on July 14, 2020.

Attributable to the Louisiana Film Prize, annual film production in Shreveport and in Northern Louisiana has flourished. In the 2018-19 season, 120 filmmakers hailing from Louisiana and surrounding states, Los Angeles and as far afield as Australia registered and completed projects for Film Prize submission. That’s a real and calculable Film Prize win for the region.

“After receiving a record number of film submissions in 2019, we expect 2020 to be another banner year for the Film Prize,” said Chris Lyon, associate director of the Louisiana Film Prize. “We had our first locally-based winner in 2019, maybe next year will be the first international winner!”

Chris Lyons and Gregory Kallenberg

That said, not all of the short films produced for consideration make it into the actual competition for the $50,000 prize.

Actually, of all films produced for Louisiana Film Prize consideration, 20 shorts are selected by Louisiana Film Prize programmers (including Kallenberg and Lyon) as Louisiana Film Prize finalists to be screened at the Louisiana Film Prize festival (to be held next year from October 1-3, 2020).

The Louisiana Film Prize’s big cash winner is decided by two voting factions. Audience members buy festival passes that allow them to vote for the winner. And, industry professionals are invited to judge the competition, as well as to present informative panel discussions for the benefit of participating filmmakers and to mentor filmmakers who individually seek advice about storytelling, editing, other festivals, networking, film distribution, marketing their projects and themselves.

In the end, audience and jury tallies weigh equally to determine the $50,000 winner. The voting procedure truly engages audience voters and invited judges, who realize their vote can actually influence a filmmaker’s career. (In full disclosure, I was a judge in 2019 and fully felt the joyful responsibility of voting for a winner. And, in truth, it was one of the most rewarding festival experiences I’ve ever had).

In 2019, the big money went to “Anniversary,” a clever musical about a couple celebrating their first year of dating by marking the changes they’d been through. Remarkably, the dramady was written, composed, directed, produced and starred in by first-time filmmaker James Harlon Palmer, a truly extraordinary talent.

Four other top contenders illustrated the diversity of storytelling and genre in the competing films: “Black Pajamas” is a beautifully crafted dance film about PTSD. “Ghosted” is a dark thriller about a man obsessed with a lady co-worker. “Leo & Grace” is a heartbreaking romance about lovers kept apart by racism. “Maven Voyage” is a sci-fi adventure about a woman who wants to join a maiden voyage to Mars.

Audience voters also designate best actor and best actress accolades that include $1,000 for each honoree. The 2019 best actress was “Maven Voyage’s” Rachel Emerson won best actress. Richard Kohnke won best actor for playing a neurotic sports coach in “And That is Why I Succeed.”

The judges picked ‘promising’ filmmakers to receive $3,000 Founder’s Circle Awards, intended to seed their next projects. The 2019 winners included the directors of the aforementioned “Black Pajamas,” “Leo & Grace,” and “Maven Voyage,” as well as “Supplements” (a post-apocalyptic thriller), “Nowhere Arkansas” (a drama about a Civil War veteran who hunts a legendary eagle), and “Same Time Next Week,” (in which writer/director/producer Kalah Roberts plays an overwhelmed mom seeking counseling from a man she believes to be a therapist but who turns out to be a non-English-speaking janitor). Good stories, all.

Every Film Prize event begins with Kallenberg and Lyon leading the audience in the festival cheer. With arms thrust into the air, everyone shouts, “WE ARE THE PRIZE!?” And, everyone actually knows that, as members of the Film Prize community, they are!

Because of the Louisiana Film Prize’s tremendous success, Kallenberg’s format is being used, with his full encouragement and support, as a model for other festivals. This year, Tennessee filmmaker David Merrill staged the first annual Memphis Film Prize (August 2-3, 2019), which presented ten shorts in competition for a cash prize of $10,000. Other cities have expressed interest in following suit. Soon there might be a Film Prize circuit, but there’s no chance of programming duplication because each set of competing shorts must have been produced in the city or county where the Film Prize is presented.

Bottom line: if you’re a filmmaker looking to make the most of your short film, look to the Louisiana Film Prize as a winning option. If you’re a movie lover keen on attending a film festival with great films, guaranteed seating at screenings and where your presence makes a difference, the Louisiana Film Prize is just right for you. Information about the 2020 Louisiana Film Prize is available at prizefest.org.

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