Reggie Ponder Discusses CineYouth Festival With Program Director Celeste Wong
Written by Vocalo Radio on April 24, 2023
Highlighting young filmmakers ages 22 and younger, CineYouth Festival (presented by the Chicago International Film Festival) showcases the future of filmmaking. Festival program manager Celeste Wong sat down with Reggie “The Reel Critic” Ponder to discuss the festival’s importance.
CineYouth Festival is celebrating 18 years of providing youth with an opportunity to share their stories. CineYouth features 65 short films from young filmmakers representing 17 countries, across a variety of genres including comedy, documentary, drama and animation. In addition to in-person screenings at Facets, the festival is also offering workshops, Q&As with directors and performers and more, plus virtual screenings for those who can’t attend in person.
Reggie “The Reel Critic” Ponder got the chance to sit down with festival program manager Celeste Wong, who notes CineYouth is all about uplifting the next generation of filmmakers and giving them space to explore.
“There’s so much curiosity,” she expressed. “They’re artists who are so interested and passionate about film, they’re discovering things that they like … They’re not feeling tied to a certain genre, or style, or topic.”
The festival’s free virtual screenings are set to begin today, April 24, and will be available until April 30. For more information, visit the festival’s website.
Reggie Ponder: I’m Reggie Ponder, “The Reel Critic,” and I am here with Celeste Wong to talk about the 18th annual CineYouth Festival, which is part of the Chicago International Film Festival. And Celeste, I want to jump right into it. 18 years. Talk about what this festival is, and the importance of it.
Celeste Wong: Yeah! Well, thank you so much for having me. It’s really wonderful to be here to talk about CineYouth. CineYouth is the Chicago International Film Festival’s youth festival that they put on every spring. And then this festival is really specifically for filmmakers who are 22 years old or younger, at the time of making their film. They’re all short films, it’s international so they come from all over the world. But it’s really about highlighting the youth, the next generation of great filmmakers, people that are local to Chicago, just starting out in their film careers here, or perhaps in school and students, as well as all over the rest of the country. And of course, all over the world.
RP: What do you see in these young people, in the excitement, in their dedication to this craft?
CW: Excitement is a great word. I think there’s so much curiosity. They’re artists who are so interested and passionate about film, they’re discovering things that they like … They’re not feeling tied to a certain genre, or style, or topic. They’re really exploring their interests still. So they’re playing with the art form, they’re experimenting with different types of storytelling. They’re really, really curious about the world. And, of course, they’re figuring out who they are themselves. So a lot of the films we’re seeing are digging deep into questions of identity and how we become who we are, start to discover things about ourselves and step into our adult selves, owning our identity, being proud of it, exploring it in really nuanced ways. They’re being really vulnerable and open and sharing their own journeys of their own coming of age with the rest of their world and putting it through the art in a way that’s really brave and bold and cool. And, of course, very relatable, because we were all young once, too!
RP: There’s comedies, there’s dramas, documentaries, animation. Talk about the breadth of this festival.
CW: We have a whole range of styles. There’s experimental films. As you said, documentaries … The documentaries might be very personal about the filmmaker themselves, or they may be about a whole different community that they’re interested in. Of course, as you said, comedies. Even within the comedies, there’s things that go super goofy, silly fun. And then there’s satirical, dark comedies that are mining the absurdities of the world through a comedic lens, but also affecting us emotionally, as well. And then, of course, like I said, a big important component is that it’s international. So we have films from 17 different countries represented, that span five different continents. That’s always an area we want to keep expanding every year with the festival, of including more countries and more young filmmakers from other countries, too. So the breadth is just huge. It’s sprawling, and it’s so impressive.
RP: I think there’s 65 of them, you said 17 different countries. How can I see these films?
CW: We start our in-person festival events Friday the 21, kicking it off with our opening night that evening. We have a couple of shorts programmed that Friday night, and then Saturday and Sunday, that’s April 22 and 23, we have full days of programming. So we kick each day off with a workshop, those are open to the public. Those, we’re bringing in filmmakers to speak to the young filmmakers about their own work, about their craft. There’s specific topics for those workshops that we’re really excited about. And then they’re launching into full days of film programs throughout the day, Saturday and Sunday. Those are all being held at Facets theater. And that’s going to be a great festival hub for us this weekend. We’re really excited to be there. And then we also offer the festival films virtually, so that’s … basically starting Monday the 24 through the 30, so for a week the films will all be available virtually online, for the folks that are outside of Chicago to be able to enjoy that way. All the tickets are free and open to the public, in-person, virtually. We wanted to make it accessible for everyone. You can check out the program, browse through, see what … what you’re interested in at Chicagofilmfestival.com/cineyouth, and you’ll be able to check out more details and reserve your free tickets there.
RP: I need you to tell them why they need to come to this in-person part.
CW: Yeah, absolutely. Well, there’s a lot of in-person elements that, unfortunately, don’t translate to online, so gonna have festival filmmakers in-person for some Q&As after the screenings. That’s always a very uniquely festival experience, getting to hear directly from the filmmakers, getting to ask them your questions. If you’re interested in films and filmmaking, you can hear directly from the directors about what inspires their work, what they want to do with their work. You get to meet them, and hopefully build those lasting relationships. The CineYouth Festival is this weekend, but it can turn into relationships that you keep for a lifetime, that can turn into filmmakers whose work you continue to seek out. The workshops, as well, are in-person only. And that’s going to be a really unique experience, to hear directly from filmmakers who are really accomplished in the Chicago area, local filmmakers who have stayed in Chicago and are really contributing to the amazing cinema scene here in Chicago.
RP: I want to thank you so much, Celeste, for joining us and telling us about the festival. We look forward to seeing all these wonderful films from these fantastic young filmmakers.
CW: Thank you so much for having us. We’re so excited.
RP: The festival runs this weekend from April 21 to the 23, and for all the information, go to Chicagofilmfestival.com/cineyouth. I’ll see you next time.
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“The Reel Critic” is hosted and produced by Reggie Ponder
Introduction written by Joshua X. Miller and Morgan Ciocca
Transcription and editing for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca
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