High school students’ short films at SXSW offer sneak peek to next generation of filmmaking

Alex Pelham

Although adult filmmakers produce the majority of the movies showing at South By Southwest, some teenagers are also getting in on the fun. The 12th annual Texas High School Film Competition is their chance to show off. 

Thousands of high school students submitted short films for the competition, but only 22 movies will screen during the festival. The winning films, all under five minutes, will premiere at the Marchesa Theatre.

Caitlin O’Brien, Robert E. Lee High School junior from San Antonio, submitted her film, “Home,” to the competition. She said she’s excited to show her work to thousands of festival-goers. 

“I was really nervous submitting the film because I wasn’t sure it would get in,” O’Brien said. “It’s really exciting. [My film has] premiered in San Antonio before, but it’s still really cool to see it on the big screen.”

“Home” follows a terminally ill girl who lives in a house programmed to care for her. She wrote and directed the short, drawing from the Ray Bradbury story “There Will Come Soft Rains.” She said when it comes to her future in filmmaking, she simply wishes to strive for perfection.

“[My goal] is to have the vision that comes to my head when I write my scripts to come perfectly to life on screen,” O’Brien said.

Anderson High School senior Meredith Morran initially created her short, “It’s a Thing,” during the 2014 Make a Film in a Day Competition, which Austin School of Film and SXSW Film Festival sponsored. The competition challenged Austin students to write, film and edit a short in 24 hours. 

“We ended up writing a screenplay for these two characters with irrational fears,” Morran said. “One’s afraid of drowning, and the other is afraid of biological warfare. Then, we kind of just went from there.”

Morran said she hopes for a career in screenwriting and directing independent films.

“I know that’s a bit ambitious, but that would be amazing,” Morran said. “Hopefully, I can make films that people like and that change people’s outlooks on different things.”

However, not all students who submitted films plan to make a career out of it. Nathan Jowers, Clear Brook High School senior from Friendswood, said his love of filmmaking doesn’t outweigh his plans to pursue philosophy or theology.

“I don’t know where my filmmaking is going to go,” Jowers said. “I don’t want to give it up. I do think it’s something that I’m good at. I might find a way to use it, but it’s not something that’s going to be the central focus in my life.”

Jowers’ submission, “Awake After Sleepless Nights,” explores the story of a young man who uses online gaming to alleviate his sleep deprivation. He said his interests lie in the technical aspect, although many student filmmakers are more concerned with storytelling.

“I love film for the color and cinematography and the language through the camera,” Jowers said. “I have a particular focus on what the color is telling the audience [and] what the [camera] angle is telling the audience.