George Lucas Educational Foundation
Arts Integration

First Steps Towards a Student Film Festival

December 19, 2014

At the beginning of the school year, the executive manager of technology for our school system charged those of us in the instructional technology department with several tasks. One of those tasks was to find a way to encourage students to create original videos. Involving students in video projects was something I had been doing with my fifth graders for the last few years, so as a new technology resource teacher I was excited to have the opportunity to promote student-made videos throughout our system. 

Our department has put several initiatives in place to fulfill this task. First, we developed PD workshops for teachers that focus on video creation. Our thinking is as teachers become more comfortable with the video creation process, they are better able to see how student-made video projects can be integrated into their instruction. Next, we created a technology blog for our school system. Through this blog our department is able to share information with teachers about video creation and many other instructional technologies (view my post entitled “The Power of Video” at We then created a reoccurring video segment that, much like the blog, can be used to easily share information: (choose “Instructional Technology” and then Tech Time).

We also decided to try our hand at a film festival. Since this is something that has never been done in our school system, we are finding the journey to be very exciting. The festival is scheduled to take place in the spring and promotion for the festival will begin after the holiday break. 

For the rest of this entry I will share with you what we have done so far to get ready for the upcoming festival. I will write subsequent entries leading up to the festival, and then provide a follow up on how things went and lessons learned. I hope you will find this information helpful if you aspire to do a film festival at your school or in your school district. If you haven’t thought of doing one, then perhaps this information will inspire you to consider it.

Initial Steps

As with most endeavors, we felt it was important for this festival to have a clear purpose. We knew that by creating a purpose statement we would be less likely to lose sight of our intentions as we moved forward. The purpose statement we created reads as follows:

“The purpose of the film festival is to encourage student creation, communication, and collaboration by providing a platform for community recognition.” 

Next, we had to decide how big we wanted the festival to be. We are a fairly large school system, comprising of 90 brick and mortar schools and one virtual campus. As a former elementary teacher I know first hand how creative and technologically savvy young students are, so it was quickly decided to include students of all ages in the festival. We broke the participants into K-5, 6-8, and 9-12 groups. We also wanted to include teachers in the festival so we created a separate teacher category. 

We then discussed where we would hold the awards ceremony. We talked about reaching out to one of the local movie theaters, but decided instead to check the availability of the auditorium of one of our high schools. We speculated that it might take a year or two to build interest in the festival so we thought a smaller (and cost-free) venue would be better this first year. 

As our discussion progressed we started thinking of more and more issues that needed to be addressed. Issues such as: 

  • What categories should there be for the videos? 
  • What will be the rules and guidelines for the competition?
  • How are the videos going to be evaluated? 
  • Who will judge the videos?
  • What kind of awards should be given out? (What can we afford to give out?)
  • How will we collect the videos?
  • How will we promote the festival?

Before we attempted to answer all of these questions we thought it might be worth searching the Internet to see if any other school districts had initiated their own film festivals. To our pure delight I stumbled upon an amazing school system in Lee County, Florida ( Lee County has been implementing a film festival for the last several years, and from the looks of their website, it appears to be a big success. The information I was able to glean from their site provided the perfect example for sharing our vision, and a great template for developing our own festival. Thank you, Lee County!

After several more meetings, coupled with additional research, we have fleshed out the initial stages of our festival. I will now go back and answer the questions I posed above.

What categories should there be for the videos?

  • Drama
  • Comedy
  • Music Video (original or non-original music)
  • Instructional Video
  • News Story
  • Documentary
  • Commercial

*All video submissions are limited to 7 minutes except commercials which are limited to 30 seconds. Documentaries can be as long as needed but only the first 7 minutes can be submitted for judging.

What will be the rules and guidelines for the competition?

This involved quite a bit of discussion. We used the Lee County rules to guide us but there were many changes we needed to make to suit our needs. For example, we stated it would be okay for elementary teachers to have a direct hand in helping their students with their videos if necessary. We also developed a different way of accepting submissions to ensure that each video will be pre-approved by, and can be traced back to, a teacher. As things stand right now, our legal department is looking all of this over to ensure it is acceptable. (I will make these documents accessible once they are approved.)

How are the videos going to be evaluated?

To address this question I again searched the Internet in hopes of finding a pre-made rubric that would closely resemble what we were looking for. I found what I was looking for at I am using the “Basic video production rubric” as my template, although I am still in the process of modifying it for our needs. (I will also make this available when it is finished.) This rubric will be used by our judges, as well as made available to the teachers and students to guide them as they create their videos. 

Who will judge the videos?

To answer this question we consulted our communications department. They are going to help us recruit local television personalities for the judging.

What kind of awards should be given out? (What can we afford to give out?)

Based on the number of submissions, we will have 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners from each category in each group (K-5, 6-8, 9-12, & teacher). Medallions will be given to 2nd and 3rd place winners and trophies will be given for 1st place. There will also be a “Best of Show” winner from each group. The best of show will receive a larger prize that will most likely be a laptop computer with a pre-loaded video editing software package. Funding for the prizes will come from the communications department and the technology department. Since the festival ties directly into one of the initiatives put forth by the department, funding is more readily available. 

How will we collect the videos?

To submit a video a student will have to go through a teacher. The teacher will pre-approve the video and then email me requesting access to submit. I will then share a web-based folder with the teacher so he/she can upload the video. This process will ensure the videos are:

  • submitted by teachers only
  • appropriate
  • in compliance with all copyrights

How will we promote the festival?

This is where our communications department will be a huge asset. They have agreed to create posters for the festival that will be distributed to the schools. They will also create video campaigns that will run on digital media screens which are located at each school. Both the posters and the digital campaigns will be implemented after the winter break. There has also been a webpage set up to promote the festival (webpage). Although this webpage is a work in progress, you can get the idea as it stands right now. 

One other thing we have decided to do is have a “Viewers Choice” award. During the week leading up to the awards ceremony we will make all of the submitted videos available for viewing through a web page. Viewers will be able to vote for their favorite video during the week. The video with the greatest number of votes will receive the viewers choice award at the ceremony. I will let you know more about the logistics of this process in a subsequent post. 

Video production can be a powerful and meaningful way to engage students in creation, communication, and collaboration. Our hope is this film festival will provide a platform that will inspire both students and teachers to get out their cameras, personal devices, or phones and shout, “Lights, camera, ENGAGE!”. 

By: Joe P. Gaston, Ed. S

This is the first of a four-part series on organizing a district-wide film festival:

Part 1: First Steps Towards a Student Film Festival
Part 2: Promotion and Professional Development
Part 3: The Day of the Festival
Part 4: Reflections: 7 Tips for Starting a District-Wide Film Festival

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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