High school directors earn screen time at local festival

“Flashback” will be shown during the 13th annual Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival

Linn-Mar High School juniors (from left) Brian Wagner, Dylan Gansen and Nick Lee will have their film “Flashback” screen
Linn-Mar High School juniors (from left) Brian Wagner, Dylan Gansen and Nick Lee will have their film “Flashback” screened during the 13th annual Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival, which is Friday and Saturday at Collins Road Theatres, 1462 Twixt Town Rd., Marion. (Meryn Fluker / The Gazette)

Linn-Mar High School juniors Dylan Gansen, Nick Lee and Brian Wagner never planned to submit their film “Flashback” to the 2013 Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival.

“It was pretty spontaneous,” said Lee, 17. “I actually didn’t think we’d make it.”

“I was done with ‘Flashback,’” added Gansen, also 17.

The students had spent approximately six months conceiving and creating the film, with the express goal of entering it into the Iowa State High School Speech Association’s all-state festival. While the trio was pleased with the feedback and scores the film received, all-state eluded them.

Lee did an Internet search of the state’s film festivals, found the Cedar Rapids event and decided to enter “Flashback” and see if the film could have a second life.

Scott Chrisman, founder and director of the Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival – which is in its 13th year – said student involvement has increased over recent years.

“As the recession has taken hold, the film industry has not been immune to it either,” he said. “Folks like students and people who are really driven to do it can put together a film for not a lot of money.”

“Flashback” is not exactly a linear story. In fact, it’s the opposite. True to its title, the almost 5-minute film begins at the end before reversing to story’s start. That point of view is one of the assets students contribute to the festival, according to Chrisman, who lives in Springville and is a creative producer at Fusion Farm.

“They bring a fresh perspective in that regard because no one has told them ‘no’ yet,” he said. “There’s no outside influence telling them, ‘You should do it this way.’ They just go.”

But the group’s journey to the film festival begins much earlier than when they submitted. To really understand it, much like the story in “Flashback,” it helps to go back to the beginning.

Gansen, Lee and Wagner began making movies together when they were all in eighth grade at Marion’s Excelsior Middle School. They made three separate projects for a health class assignment. The compositions earned – and continue to garner – an effusive response from other learners.

Making films became their de-facto response to any Power Point Presentation assignment. Last August, the auteurs decided to make “Flashback,” their most challenging project yet.

“It’s probably the first professional-esque movie we’d ever made,” Lee said. “We kind of had an idea but we didn’t know what to do with it.”

“We knew we wanted to do a chase movie,” Gansen added.

The result is a film that they are very proud of, complete with an homage to Quentin Tarantino’s classic “Pulp Fiction.”

Chrisman's goal with the festival is to "support the Eastern Iowa film and video industry," with an eye to reach out to people like Gansen, Lee and Wagner.

"There aren't a lot of people who grow up in Iowa and say, 'I want to be a filmmaker,'" Chrisman said. "For those who do, this is a place for them to come."

“Flashback” was one of almost 60 submitted films and 30 to earn official selection status from the Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival. When the movie screens this weekend, it will be eligible for the Gold and Silver Eddy awards, the Audience Choice and Iowa Connection Eddys.

“That’s not the main appeal,” Wagner said. “The appeal is that it’s a film festival. The awards are just a bonus.” 

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