Prairie Grass Film Challenge filmmakers compete in competition’s final year

Tabetha DeGroot—Staff Writer

Photo credit: Tabetha DeGroot

It’s a typical, January day in Northwest Iowa. It’s the kind of day where the cold air stings the face and the snow flurries. While most hide from the sub-zero temperatures with a Netflix binge, a group of Dordt University students create their own cinematic experience. They’ve turned the basement of the Kuyper Apartments into a movie set, complete with lights, cameras, and action.

“Is camera three ready?”

“More blood!”

“We need gaffer’s tape, guys.”

“Always be thinking like an editor.”

On the evening of January 21, the first-year filmmaking team of “Take 2 Productions” sets up their scene. 

They, along with 25 other teams from across the nation, must write, shoot, and edit a short film within 48 hours for the Prairie Grass Film Challenge (PGFC). They’re given a set of prompts that specify the inclusion of a line, prop, or character. Upon finishing the film, they’ll prepare for its screening and judging at an awards ceremony later in the semester  

A few hours north in Egerton, Minnesota, veteran team “Player 2 Productions” prepares for their return to the competition after a two-year hiatus. 

“I love the unique challenge Prairie Grass creates” said Josh Heynen, seven-year participant and sound man for Player 2. “I wasn’t going to miss the last opportunity [to compete]”.

This year marks the fifteenth and final year of the PGFC. Mark Volkers, Dordt digital media production instructor and board member for PGFC, watched the competition grow from a scattering of film students in 2006 to a nationwide competition with multiple, returning attendees. 

Volkers and the PGFC leadership team decided to end to PGFC for two reasons: the challenge’s time commitment and the improvement in filmmaking technology over the years

“The uniqueness of making a film has changed.” Volkers said. “In 2006, getting mom and dad’s camera out and shooting a video was a big deal. Now we all have a powerful camera in our pockets. It’s not boring or dead, it’s just different than it was”.

“We’re good with 15.” Volkers said. “We’ve had a wonderful run.”

Photo credit: Tabetha DeGroot

Though the film challenge is coming to a close, it has impacted many classes of college filmmakers, as well as others who like to have some fun with a camera. 

“Some of my best college memories are of competing in Prairie Grass” Josh Heynen said, “I am very grateful for Prairie Grass and all the work Mark Volkers has put into hosting this challenge”.

“My expectations were exceeded,” said Ellie Bergstrom of Take 2 Productions. “It was a blast. And I would definitely do it again.” 

This year’s PGFC looks similar to previous year’s, with exception to the addition of the “Winner’s Circle” category. This new category will recognize the best short film from the previous 14 winners of the “coveted Dordty award” and be presented with the Blackbird Award. 

All films submitted to the PGFC will be screened on Friday, Feb. 18 in the science building from 5:45 to 7:45 p.m., followed by an awards ceremony at 8:00 p.m. in the B.J. Haan Auditorium.

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