CineYouth features Northwestern filmmakers, highlights youth talent from across the globe


Photo courtesy of Rebecca Shaid

A shot from Northwestern students Rebecca Shaid, Ethan Cheng and Hank Yang’s documentary “Chicago Polar Bear Club.” The movie is featured in the documentary category at this weekend’s CineYouth film festival.

Lexi Goldstein, Assistant Arts and Entertainment Editor

Sometimes, suiting up your professor in a plant costume to drive a car is what it takes to get the perfect shot.

For Communication junior Sam Friedman, it was a must for his short film “George,” which was selected in the “Humor Me” category of the festival CineYouth. Next week marks CineYouth’s 18th year of running. It’s a festival that presents short films created by filmmakers around the world who are 22 years old or younger.

This year, CineYouth received more than 330 submissions and selected 65 short films for 10 categories, according to CineYouth Festival Manager Celeste Wong. CineYouth will have in-person workshops, screening and panels from April 21 to April23, as well as virtual streaming options available from April 24 to 30. 

“It’s a really intensive process of watching all the films, rewatching them, discussing them, making sure we do our due diligence and really strongly consider them all because it’s such great work,” Wong said. “It’s coming from young filmmakers who are so exciting, and we really want to honor their work, whether or not they make it into the festival.”

There are filmmakers from five continents this year, Wong said, so the streaming component is a great way for those who don’t live in Chicago to enjoy the program.

Though the festival is open to young filmmakers regardless of geographic location, the festival still pays homage to its hometown with a “Chicagoland” program on the opening and closing nights.

“It’s really important throughout the whole festival that we honor and celebrate the local talent here in Chicago,” Wong said. “It’s such a great area for film and for art in general, and fostering the next generation of these great Chicago-based artists can only help the city; it can only help the arts scene.”

“George” is a short film about an office plant who tries to rob an employee, but the employee ends up talking the thief out of it. They end up conversing about indifference, care and grief among other themes, Friedman said. 

Friedman made the live-action short for his study abroad capstone project in December at the Prague Film School. 

“It’s just a real homage to the city, and I included some different sounds like the Prague tram, which I don’t think a layperson will really ever hear. But every time I watch it, it brings me back to my time there,” Friedman said.

The film is a dramedy and aims to be satirical by centering the plot on a plant that has more humanity than a human office worker, Friedman said. He added that those who are struggling with vulnerability can take away from “George” the advice that it’s helpful to talk to other people, even if it’s in the most ridiculous way.

Friedman applied to a range of film festivals and equated the festival application process to college admissions. He added that he appreciated his geographic proximity to CineYouth and the ability to have the team represent “George” in person.

“There’s a quote my mom always says that’s like, ‘Home is where the journey begins,’” Friedman said. “You have to start at home, start with a set that’s close to you and slowly build from there. So playing Chicago festivals, especially (those) for youth, is important to me.”

Aside from “George,” several other Northwestern students appear in the program. The film “Chicago Polar Bear Club” by Medill juniors Rebecca Shaid and Hank Yang and Communication junior Ethan Cheng is also featured in the event.

The students behind “Chicago Polar Bear Club” submitted to CineYouth with encouragement from their professor, having made the documentary for an assignment in RTVF 190: Media Construction

“We weren’t really expecting anything, we just did it for fun,” Cheng said.

Shaid, Yang and Cheng created a documentary about the annual Polar Plunge organized by the nonprofit Chicago Polar Bear Club, which is a fundraiser to aid local families in need.

With heavy, expensive equipment and tremendous snow, Shaid said filming was a challenge. The crew used an umbrella to shield the camera from snowfall, she added.

“It was really a difficult day of filming, but it felt really good to get back in the car afterwards and put on the heat,” Shaid said. 

The trio found inspiration from making the film. Cheng, a theatre major, said being selected for CineYouth has bolstered his passion for filmmaking. Shaid, who has aspirations of being a documentary filmmaker, said she hopes she will be making such films for the rest of her life.

Wong said she was “blown away” by the quality of filmmaking coming from such a young age range. She said the movies are impressive beyond just being made by “youth” and added that they could compare to works screened at festivals for seasoned filmmakers. 

“They’re just so well-made, so thoughtfully made, really compassionately told stories,” Wong said.

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @lexipgoldstein

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