By George Basler
The Rod Serling Video Festival began 19 years ago as a local contest for young video makers in Broome County.
Nowadays, however, the locals have some competition. This year’s entrants come from across New York state and from as way away as Tacoma, Wash., and Port Moody, British Columbia in Canada.
For Larry Kassan, the festival’s founder, it’s a sign of just how successful the Serling program has become. “We’re getting entrants from further away than ever before,” he said.
WSKG Public Television will broadcast an hour-long special at 8 p.m. Friday (May 17) featuring winning entrees from this year’s competition. People can watch at home or head to the Helen Foley Theater at Binghamton High School, 31 Main St., Binghamton, to watch the winners on a big screen. An awards ceremony will take place immediately afterwards.
The purpose of the festival — one of the few video festivals in the country open exclusively to K-12 students — remains the same as 19 years ago. It exists to maintain the legacy of Serling, a prize-winning dramatist who called Binghamton home, and “to promote the creative use of media arts in the home and classroom,” said Kassan, who still coordinates the event at no cost to the school district.
High school and middle school students submit most of the entrees, although the festival has a category for the best elementary school production. A panel of judges selects the winners in 11 different categories, including Best in Show, Best Direction, Best Animation and Best Comedy.
Entrees are down a bit this year, totaling about 100, compared to 150 in some previous years, Kassan said.
One reason for the drop, he believes, is that schools and teachers are facing pressures from tougher state tests and a new teacher evaluation system. These pressures limit time to get involved in extra projects such as the Serling Video Festival, Kassan said.
“We’ve seen an increase in independent entrees that students submit on their own, but we’re down at the school-based level,” he noted.
But the overall quality hasn’t suffered. “Students are becoming more sophisticated as filmmakers,” Kassan said.
One development this year is a higher number of entries dealing with serious themes, Kassan said. For example, Genevieve Mecklenborg, a sophomore at Binghamton High School, submitted an entry about losing a loved one to cancer. Her work won in the Best Music Video category.
At the same time, some of the entries are extremely humorous, Kassan said. One such submission came from Calvin O’Connor, a junior at Niskayuna High in Niskayuna, who produced a mock documentary on Babe Ruth in the style of documentary filmmaker Ken Burns. O’Connor won in the Best Comedy category.
Kassan is pleased that many of this year’s entries feature well-thought out story ideas. “What I try to emphasize to young people is that it’s not special effects that makes a good entry, but a good story and outline. You can then let the special effects enhance it,” he said.
Festival sponsors this year are Knucklehead Embroidery, Unicorn Electronics, the Binghamton City School District and WSKG-TV.
Friday’s broadcast is exciting because it allows students to have their work seen on public television, Kassan said.
“It’s a great showcase for the young people’s work,” he said. You could call it the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae.
Following is a complete list of winners:
WSKG broadcasts Serling Video Festival winners Friday
By George Basler