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by Tumbleweed Smith

I had the privilege recently to judge the American Motion Picture Society’s annual film competition. Three of us watched the entries for eight straight nights. Some of the sessions lasted up to four hours. When they asked me to be one of the judges, I said yes without realizing what a grueling time was ahead. It was fascinating, though. The 63 entries came from all over the world. The categories were nature, travel, experimental, documentary, adventure drama and comedy. The length of the entries ranged from two minutes to half an hour.

The first film we watched was from Madagascar. It was about lemurs, little creatures that bounce from one point to another instead of walking. It was totally enthralling. The second one we watched, also in the nature category, was titled “Wagtails” and showed some incredible footage of birds in England carefully building an architecturally superb nest on top of a row of fencing only to see it blown off during an windstorm (it won for best photography). One entry from Africa was about predatory animals and had some gruesome shots of wild dogs catching their prey and eating it.

These filmmakers are all amateurs, although some of their work looked professional. The rules state the entries must be made strictly for the love of the medium and not for any commercial gain. Entries that earned money were not allowed. Now that the competition is over, I hope some of these make their way to television or movie houses because they are of high quality. Although it is called AMPS (American Motion Picture Society), very few entries came from the United States. The first night of judging there was only one: a travel piece on Chicago.

Filmmakers from other countries made movies located in the USA. A group from the British Isles made a movie on forest fires in Utah. A group from Germany did a piece on Indians. On the other hand, some students from Iowa State made a movie in Africa.

The topics were fascinating. One was about body painting. What appear to be girls wearing shirts are actually girls wearing only their painted skin. We saw coppersmiths and potters make incredibly beautiful items by hand. Some of the entries were about Venice and Iguaçu Falls.

Others were about penguins. We judged on the story, photography, editing, and sound. When it was all over, the winning entry was a piece from Belgium on Flanders Field, the American Memorial Cemetery from World War One. The production techniques involved, using evocative music and historical photographs and archive film material, made it truly remarkable. It just barely won. Coming in an extremely close second was a film from Poland on the Auschwitz concentration camp. It was riveting. Stunning. It won the best foreign film award.

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