The show won’t go on: Prairie Grass Film Challenge concludes after 15 years

Elaina Ammons—Staff Writer

Photo Credit: Daniel Ketchelos

The annual Prairie Grass Film Challenge (PGFC) has been an icon of the Dordt University digital media production program for 15 years. What began as an idea in the imagination of Mark Volkers and grew into a global short film competition ended on Friday, Feb. 18. As streamers fell in the B.J. Haan Auditorium following the Awards Ceremony, the festival was finished forever.

Each year of the PCFC, contestants spend 48 hours planning, shooting, and editing short films in hopes of hauling home a cash prize or the “coveted Dordty award.” And, every year, participants are required to incorporate predetermined characters, props, and lines of dialogue into their films.

This year, lines such as “Everything changed at the last curtain call,” “My world changed at the stoplight,” and “I didn’t see that coming” were given to contestants. Also, characters such as a time-traveler and Elroy and a washed-up soap opera actor were required. In addition, teams were awarded an extra point by the judges for including the red-winged blackbird (a part of PGFC’s logo) in their film.

The nominees for Best of High School were headlined by Eagle Productions and Sticky Tack Productions. The former, competing for the first time, won with their film, Spared.

For Best of College, the Dordt-based team of Take Two Productions took home a $250 check for their film, BrainStorming, a meta-commentary on the film challenge itself.

“It was a big chance,” Jonah Hofmeyer, the film’s producer, said.

In a mock interrogation scene filmed in the basement of Kuyper Apartments, Hofmeyer, a junior, played a hard-nosed detective: “Where is the neurotoxin?” He shouted.

When BrainStorming won, Hofmeyer was “shocked” and thankful: “I watched it come together through a group that was really strong.”

Following the high school and college categories, Volkers announced Kalta Studios as the winner of the post-college division. Their film, Barista’s Choice, marked the team’s third, award-winning short film in the competition. In 2018 and 2019, the team, originally based out of South Dakota State University, won Best of College.

Josh Gross, a member of Kalta Studios for four years and a recently hired assistant adjunct for the Dordt engineering department, wrote original music for Barista’s Choice.

“It was so great to end this journey on a high note,” Gross said. “I’ve discovered a passion for filmmaking that I didn’t know I had.”

Gross composes a score by creating a “world of sound” that relates to the film’s themes and the director’s vision. For Barista’s Choice, a story about a time-traveling barista, he created a “unique, ethereal sound” with synth pads and major seventh chords.

“We made this one really sad, almost comically sad,” Gross said.

Lastly, the highest honor of the festival, the “coveted Dordty award,” was presented to Monte Ne Productions for their original musical, Stuck. Also, Thick of It Productions won Winner’s Circle Award for their film, Boomerang..

Photo Credit: Daniel Ketchelos

Through the PGFC, Volkers wanted to impact the community and the challenge’s participants. He thought it was necessary to promote the arts in the Midwest, inspire the next generation of filmmakers, and create “content worth consuming” for all audiences.

Though last Friday marked the final year of the challenge, the PGFC leadership team decided to close the curtain on the event five years ago at the tenth PGFC. For the leadership team, fifteen years provided the PGFC with enough time to leave an impact on young filmmakers.

Over the years, participants of the PGFC have enrolled in the Master of Fine Arts and Directing program at Northwestern University and played a role in the production of hit TV shows such as You, God Friended Me, and more.

“It’s bittersweet,” Hofmeyer said. “You don’t want it to be the last one.”

Next year, Hofmeyer wants to make a short film with his team “in honor” of the PGFC.

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