The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has forced park and recreation leaders to rethink how they offer services that keep their community connected. How do we adapt programs, activities and special events in the short term, while adhering to stay-at-home policies? How can park and recreation agencies help communities address coronavirus-related issues at home, and prepare residents to heal and move forward?
In 2019, the East Goshen Township (PA) Department of Parks and Recreation created the SE Pennsylvania Teen Filmmakers Showcase in partnership with the Movie Tavern Exton, a state-of-the-art cinema with in-theater dining options. Last summer’s initial event was a huge success, with a packed audience of 150 enjoying twelve original films by local teens across all cinematic genres. A completely free experience for the filmmakers, all of whom envisioned film industry careers.
Event staff immediately went to work preparing for the 2020 SE Pennsylvania Teen Filmmakers Showcase, with an event date set for August 17, 2020. They asked themselves how the event could get bigger, more immersive and more impactful for these emerging teen filmmakers. A local limousine service was interested in bringing the teens to the event and the Movie Tavern Exton purchased a flowing red carpet. A panel of college and film school professors and industry executives signed on to host a question and answer panel.
Planning for 2020 was done, and the Showcase was looking to be bigger and better than ever — time to start watching the submissions roll in!
Then the coronavirus pandemic began.
Schools closed, taking away access to audio-visual equipment. Submissions came to a screeching halt, with only three received by April 1. Showcase leadership was worried that the event simply would not take place; its momentum would stop. This wonderful opportunity to display to the world that teenagers are creative, engaged and insightful would end.
Filmmakers by definition are storytellers. Just like all other artists, they tell stories that educate, entertain and provoke thought via their chosen medium of cinema. Showcase leadership thought that storytelling should include the only story that matters right now — the coronavirus pandemic. On April 4, a “quarantined” film category was added to the Showcase’s submission profile, with the simple criteria of: tell us how coronavirus has impacted your life, and it must be made during the stay-at-home quarantine. One submission came in the next day. Then four. Then fifteen. By the morning of May 4, Showcase staff opened up their FilmFreeway platform to find 295 submissions! Filmmakers wanted to tell their coronavirus stories, and not just from Pennsylvania. They have received submissions from teens across the country and 45 other countries as well!
The coronavirus pandemic may still affect the Showcase planned for this coming August 17, 2020. It might be hosted virtually, maybe to a smaller audience that is physically distanced — only time will tell. One thing the Showcase leaders know is that it will be an absolute success. The 295 submissions alone have made the event a success, providing a sounding board for these teen artists to tell their coronavirus stories.
The pandemic has certainly changed the way we think about our lives and how we interact within our communities, but it does not diminish the importance of parks and recreation. If anything, our efforts to engage our residents and keep a community together is more important than ever right now. Take a page from East Goshen Township Parks and Recreation and get creative! And now, on to the show!
Join me as I introduce two of these “quarantined” films for your enjoyment in the video below. “Sweet Quaranteen,” directed by Amanda Hess and Deirdre Cunniffe, follows two best friends experiencing their sweet sixteen birthdays while staying at home. It is humorous, quirky and ultimately uplifting. “Please Do Your Part.” directed by Cole Ciarlello, is a dramatic look at how teenage ambivalence towards stay-at-home policies may put loved ones at risk.
Learn more about the 2020 SE Pennsylvania Teen Filmmakers Showcase. The Showcase is also an NRPA Park Champion™ event, highlighting the importance of municipal park and recreation agencies to elected officials.
For more information about NRPA’s response to COVID-19, as well as available resources for park and recreation professionals, please see our Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) webpage.
Jason Lang is the Director of East Goshen Township (PA) Department of Parks and Recreation and creator of the SE Pennsylvania Teen Filmmakers Showcase.