This interview was conducted via email and is presented here with Andy's own words.
FAITHFUL WITNESS: How did you decide to start the festival and what has been its evolution?
ANDY COHEN: There is a very long, (but very good) story of how this festival came about but for now I will be brief. During my first year teaching, I was trying to find out what it meant to be teaching video in a Quaker School. One of the first students I had, with a passion for filmmaking, made a very funny horror film spoof. This film was entered into a "National High School" film festival run by students. I went with my students to this festival and was shocked but not surprised to see the kinds of films at this event. Of the 10 finalist films screened, more then half of the films were emulating what the students see on television and at the movies. It wasn't so much the violence, drug and alcohol abuse depicted but rather the complete lack of compassion exhibited in these films that disturbed me. This particular film festival was about a month after the incident at Columbine High School and perhaps in light of that, I was particularly sensitive. So, I thought wouldn't be cool to have a festival with the focus being on films' with a conscious. I think it is vital that educators and parents work together with students on their ideas and on what films would be acceptable for a Quaker film festival.
The evolution of the festival. The first year we had 12 entries from 7 schools with 9 finalists chosen. We had an evening screening with 4 finalist judges. This past year, the event has grown to a full day event, including 4 filmmaking workshops in the morning and afternoon with breakfast and lunch, a sit-down dinner for filmmakers, judges, workshop facilitators and festival dignitaries, an evening screening with judges and a "Professional Featured Filmmaker" presentation with a question and answer session.
FAITHFUL WITNESS: How does the criteria of reflecting "Quaker values" help give voice to the witness or ministry of young Friends?
ANDY COHEN: This question gives me chills. One amazing aspect of this festival is the diversity of ideas that these films represent. Issues covered have included: gun violence, sexual identity, spiritual discovery, diversity, history, poetry, racism, dangers of drinking and driving, and self-discovery. Genres have included: drama, documentary, animation and avant-garde. Akworth School from England gave us a 12 minute version of "A Tale of Two Cities" in full costume. When students are Intrigued with a good idea to communicate, they naturally become more motivated to learn the tools necessary and do the hard work required to complete the project.
FAITHFUL WITNESS: What was special about this year's event and the films submitted?
ANDY COHEN: This year we received the most entries ever and with the highest level of content and technical quality. Many of the films that were not chosen as finalist films could easily have been selected in previous years. The bar has been raised. The films this year were also on a more personal level. Students took risks by expressing honest feelings and emotions about issues of concern.
I think it is important for all the filmmakers and advisors, regardless of their finalist status, to attend the festival workshop and learn from industry professionals and each other. Attend the sit-down dinner and exchange ideas and views with the judges, workshop facilitators and fellow filmmakers and to see, learn from and be inspired by the finalist films at the screening.
Each film must be selected by and fees paid for by a participating school or meeting. It should be considered an achievement and honor simply to be entered and represent your school or meeting in this event.
Because of the popularity of the festival this year there will be a rule change. Now, each school may select only 1 film per division to be entered. Brooklyn Friends will have screening in both the upper and middle divisions to determine the entries into the festival.
FAITHFUL WITNESS: Is there anything else you would like to share about the festival?
ANDY COHEN: The name, "The Bridge Film Festival" comes from the idea of trying to connect students and adults of Friends' Schools and Meetings' by creating bridges of communication and exchange. Last year Brooklyn Friends School began developing one relationship for exchange with Akworth School in England.
Someday I would like to see the "Bridge" concept grow into exchanges and festivals including: performing arts, sciences, sports, academics, etc. I've seen many excellent individual Friends' Schools but I believe there is untapped possibilities as a collective of diverse institutional learning centers with common core values.
FAITHFUL WITNESS: How has this work affected your own spiritual journey?
ANDY COHEN: Profoundly. I must frequently consider Quaker testimonies and how they relate to myself, my students and my work. I believe in Quaker values and feel spreading these messages of conscience in an accessible and intelligent manor to be an important part of my own spiritual journey. George Fox said, "Let your lives speak," here at the film festival we like to say, "let your films speak."
FAITHFUL WITNESS: Is there any help you might like to request from the Quaker community at large for this ministry?
ANDY COHEN: One of the unique aspects of this festival is that we encourage the schools, teachers and parents to take an active role in the creative process and get involved with student filmmaking. Greenwood Friends School each year has entered the festival with a school wide project. One year I heard from their Head of School who told me, the first question asked by a parent at the first PAT meeting was, "What are we doing for this years film festival?" That's cool.
I ask all interested to get involved and ask your Schools' and Meetings' about plans for this year's festival. Some schools may or may not have video programs. If not, see what can be done about it. And finally, words cannot truly describe this event, it has to be experienced. The best part of the whole day for me is at the very end of the evening, when the filmmakers are brought up on stage and receive feedback from the judges and recognition for the work they have accomplished from the audience.
FAITHFUL WITNESS: How are plans shaping up for the 2004 festival?
ANDY COHEN: The festival committee has been busy getting ready for next year's event, slated for Saturday, May 1, 2004. This year we are considering a number of changes to help include more schools' in the event. The first change is to limit the number of short film entries per school division from 2 to 1. The second major change is to add a new category, that of the "Public Service Announcement." These, PSA's will be 30 second commercials about issues of concern. Each middle school and upper school division may submit 1 PSA per division. My hope is that ultimately these PSA's may be aired and that their message my be spread to a larger audience.
PART TWO: Faithful Witness Interview with festival judge Tom Hoopes, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Coordinator of Education Programs