Rod Serling Video Festival keeps rolling

By George Basler

A lot has changed since the Rod Serling Video Festival began 17 years ago as a way to promote the creative use of technology by students in elementary, middle and high school.

Advances in technology mean students now use sophisticated computer software for editing and special effects. They also can post videos on outlets such as You Tube for all the world to see, and some even have formed their own production companies, said Lawrence Kassan, director of special projects for the Binghamton City School District, who founded and still organizes the annual competition.

Nonethess, the Rod Serling Video Festival, named for The Twilight Zone creater and Binghamton Central High graduate, remains relevant as a way for students to push themselves to another level, because their work will be seen and evaluated by professional judges, Kassan said.

“I love doing this,” he said. “I’m always amazed and inspired by what the young people are doing. They have such creative ideas, and you can see how much work they put into it.”

Besides having their work judged, winners can pad their resumes and see their productions showcased in an hour-long broadcast on the WSKG public television station. This year’s broadcast is 8 p.m. May 18. People can watch the program at home or go to Binghamton High School for a screening in the Helen Foley Theater.

“Students really step up to the challenge. From kindergarten up, they have a lot of creative ideas,” said John Gregory, an employee of Plan First Technologies in Cortland and one of the judges for this year’s festival.

The judges, about 12 in all, select winners in a number of different categories including Best Animation, Best Special Effects, Best Direction, Best K-6th Grade Entry and Best in Show.

Although technology has changed tremendously, one thing hasn’t: Good writing still remains the key for a winning entry, Kassan said.

“Even with the bells and whistles computer technology can provide, the basic thing is still a good story,” he emphasized.

While most of the entries come from high school students, about 20 percent come from elementary and middle school students. Submissions have come from as far away as Ohio and California, but most come from New York state.

To his knowledge, the Serling festival is the only video competition strictly limited to K-12 students, Kassan said. He’s had pressure to expand to other age groups, such as college students, but has resisted the push because of his desire to keep the competition focused clearly on the work of budding filmakers.

Kassan said the numbers of entries is down this year to about 100 after being around 200 in some previous years. He wonders if school budget cuts had something to do with the drop. But the quality is still there, he said. One development he’ seen is that more of this year’s entries focused on social issues, notably bullying , which is drawing attention in schools across the country, Kassan said.

No tax money goes for the event. Costs are covered by entry fees and support from two local businesses, Knucklehead Embroidery Inc. and Unicorn Electronics Inc., Kassan said.

“It’s a lot of fun to see what the students are doing,” said Ken Harris, a freelance video producer and one of the judges. “Over the years we’ve seen some outstanding productions.”

The awards ceremony will follow the May 18 broadcast in the Foley Theater. Winners are:

  • Best of Show: Corry Loveday, grade 12, Tamarac High School
  • Best Direction: Dustin Schoenfeld, grade 10, Westport Central School
  • Best Cinematography: Ken Omiya, grade 12, Niskayuna High School
  • Best Animation: Bethany Welgloss, grade 11, Dryden High School
  • Best Art Direction: Liam Walsh, grade 8, Binghamton
  • Best Music Video: Cheyenne Franz, grade 12, Tamarac High School
  • Best Use of Humor: Maddie Rojas Lynch, grade 12, Niskayuana High School
  • Best Choreography: Chris Clark, Joseph Brooks, Ed Woodward, grade 12, GST BOCES
  • Best K-6 Entry: Mrs. Ross’ kindergarten and first grade classes Homer Brink Elementary School, Maine-Endwell Central School District.
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