Lights, Camera, Action…Coronavirus, Revisited

By Jason Lang, MS, CPRE | Posted on September 2, 2020

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Back in May, we featured an Open Space blog post on the SE Pennsylvania Teen Filmmakers Showcase, an event that quickly pivoted to move forward despite the coronavirus pandemic. Slated to be held on August 17, we checked in with East Goshen Township’s Parks and Recreation Director and event creator, Jason Lang, to see how the event turned out.

Canceled. Postponed. Scrapped. These are three words that do not describe the 2020 SE Pennsylvania Teen Filmmakers Showcase that went off without a hitch on August 17, 2020. Reinvented and adapted do define the experience. By the time the showcase’s submission deadline rolled around on June 1, event organizers had received 1,092 original film submissions from 89 countries around the world! Over 200 entries alone came in for the COVID-19 category, as filmmakers from all corners of the globe wanted to tell their stories of how the pandemic had affected their communities. With this newfound spike in interest surrounding the showcase, event organizers were emboldened to host it no matter what.

By the time August’s summer heat moved in, movie theaters in Pennsylvania were still closed — so the virtual showcase was born! The Movie Tavern Exton opened its doors so the planning committee and teen event MC’s could shoot filler segments and the event started to take shape. As with much of what we do right now, Zoom meetings replaced in-person workshops and industry expert Q and A’s. Official selection certificates, playbills and Hollywood stars were mailed instead of handed out at the event. The teen filmmakers didn’t skip a beat.

The showcase’s goal of creating a space where teens could come to share individual talents in a collective atmosphere still came to fruition. In fact, it seemed that they were more encouraging of one another, given the herculean efforts they all could empathize with; making a quality short film without access to school film equipment is a tall order. The films were merged into one viewing experience and hosted as a YouTube premiere. Additionally, because we had such a great response to our COVID-19 category, we created a second showcase event, dubbed the “coronavirus” edition, and showed another 20 films from here in the United States, as well as El Salvador, Romania and France, among others.

August 17 came and the curtain went up; the 2020 SE Pennsylvania Teen Filmmakers Showcase was underway. The selected teens still had their original films up on the big screen — technically. The showcase planning committee viewed the 20 films on-site, and then we hosted a Zoom awards party afterward. Just before the awards party, everyone watching at home was given the opportunity to vote for the fan-favorite film in real-time, with “Bounties + Bros” by Derek Rahm coming out on top. The awards party was phenomenal, with all the teens really excited to have just seen their film. In the end, the film “Please Do Your Part” by Cole Ciarlello — a dramatic take on teenage ambivalence towards COVID-19 norms — took home best picture.

What lessons did we learn? Teenagers are awesome. They are much more appreciative than we give them credit for and are immeasurably talented. We had an extremely diverse group of filmmakers, and while they all came from different backgrounds and had divergent life stories, they all listened and wanted to hear those stories. They applauded each other as people and as artists. The showcase became something bigger than just the flashy in-person red carpet event — it was empowering teens to develop their voice while encourages others, as well.  

Without a doubt, we would have loved to host the showcase in person. Next year, 20 new filmmakers will get to arrive at the event in a limo. However, this year was different — challenging how we continue serving our communities through our park and recreation programming. Nevertheless, even though this year is different, our job is the same. Create moments that become lifelong memories. As we move forward with life here during the coronavirus pandemic, we are certain we gave these 40 teens their best memory of the year so far, and that made it all worth it.

Watch the 2020 SE Pennsylvania Teen Filmmakers Showcase:


Watch the 2020 SE Pennsylvania Teen Filmmakers Showcase, Coronavirus Edition:


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, MS, CPRE, is the Director of East Goshen Township (Pennsylvania) Department of Parks and Recreation and creator of the SE Pennsylvania Teen Filmmakers Showcase.