Jaden Mathews, senior at OPRF, turned his love of storytelling into a passion for films. Mathews is organizing the first ever student film festival for OPRF students | Photo Submitted by Mathews

More students are going to be able to showcase their talents and passion for storytelling as Oak Park and River Forest High School’s Jaden Mathews, a senior, works to put together the very first short film festival. 

Mathews, 17, began following his love for creative outlets when he was little, which eventually led him to developing a passion for animation and storytelling. Mathews viewed animation as an outlet that would let him combine his passion for writing and drawing without feeling that he would have to pick and choose which outlet to devote to. 

During his junior year, the OPRF student started an animation club, which allowed for students who also shared the same interest to gather and find encouragement from their peers. Soon, however, Mathews noticed that there was a bigger need at the school that wasn’t being met. 

“I started to realize that student artwork wasn’t being promoted, at least on the film side,” Mathews said. “There are art shows and art festivals, there was always a space for students who did fine arts but for students who did film, they were not shared or promoted by the school.”

While Mathews found creative support in the animation club, he was dreaming of creating something that would have a lasting impact, and thus the idea for the OPRFHS Film Festival was born. 

“My goals were bigger and more long term,” Mathews said. “I was hoping for some impact that would trickle down.” 

With the idea of a bigger and better event, Mathews began approaching faculty during the end of his junior year. Mathews said he had three things in mind when coming up with the concept of a film festival: promoting student work, being able to give students a prize, and creating something that would leave an impact. 

“From those three things, I began to write ideas and concepts and think about the festival in a longer term,” Mathews said.

Mathews began approaching faculty at OPRF to get guidance on how to start the process of creating a successful event from scratch. 

When reached for comment, Karin Sullivan, the school’s communications director, said the district was not ready to publicly comment on the event. 

The OPRFHS Film Festival opened its submissions to high school students before winter break. While the current deadline for submissions is April 4, Mathews said they are considering extending it to allow time for more students to participate. Currently the film festival has received 10 submissions, but Mathews is expecting a few more to apply towards the end of the deadline. 

With support from local businesses such as The Book Table and Candycopia, which will be providing concessions for the festival, Mathews is excited for the community to come out to the free event and support their local high school students’ passion for storytelling. 

Additionally, Mathews will be using a donation from the alumni association of $500 to provide the top three films with a monetary prize. All submissions will be reviewed prior to the festival by Mathews and a board of reviewers he had put together over the course of the past year. The films will be ranked and shown in order of their ranking, with the top three films being shown last. First place will receive a $250 prize, second place will receive $150, and $100 will be awarded to third place. 

While it was his passion that led to the first ever student film festival at OPRF, Mathews said he will not be showcasing any of his work. 

“I thought it would be kind of cheap if the guy who is running the festival is also submitting,” Mathews said. 

With hopes of a flawless execution, Mathews hopes his efforts to support students with a passion for filmmaking will continue after he graduates but he seeks the communities support for that wish to come into fruition. 

“The biggest thing is showing up to support the students and their artwork,” Mathews said. “I think art is essential in the community because it provides a deeper sense of where the community’s heart lies and it also provides a space for the community to grow. Artwork is essential in any growing community. Let’s not only view it but let’s show up to celebrate it and promote it. To give it power.” 

The official festival screening will be held on Sunday, May 14 at Austin Gardens, 167 Forest Ave., Oak Park from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. For more information readers can visit the OPRFHS Film Festival website at https://sites.google.com/view/oprfhsfilmfestival/home?authuser=0

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