Rumschpringe and the State of the Arts in Lancaster

I just returned from a screening of the fourteen short films in the Rumschpringe festival, which began yesterday and runs through tomorrow night. As a whole, the experience captured the state of the arts here in Lancaster.

Rumschpringe 2009 poster, designed by Jeff McComsey
Rumschpringe 2009 poster, designed by Jeff McComsey


Above all, there are points of light and reasons for celebration and hope. The Rumschpringe grand prize was shared last night by two very different submissions that were each excellent in their own way. American Terror: Company Man, a collaboration between animator Joseph Krzemienski and graphic novelist Jeff McComsey, displays an edginess of vision and level of technical proficiency that any city arts scene would covet. Green Fans, a documentary by Luis Ortiz and Damien Kalpokas on the passion and ritual of the Philadelphia Eagles’ die-hard fans, includes a spectrum of impressive interviews (with a former owner, former mayor Rendell, and several stand-out fans) and depth of footage that make it the real deal. It’s edited into a strong narrative and is packaged to feel finished—in fact, for a few moments I forgot where I was and felt like I was watching a professional TV special.

Ryan Mast’s two music video entries under his Unitheo production company stood out as well for the strength of the underlying vision and the precision of the execution. In other words, he wanted good shots and got the shots he wanted to, then pulled it together seamlessly.


Entrance to the film festival is through these main doors of the National Guard armory on North Queen Street
Entrance to the film festival is through these main doors of the National Guard armory on North Queen Street

The location of the festival and the quality of the screening experience reveal that, disappointingly, Lancaster still is not equipped to pull off this sort of event particularly well. The films are screened in the old gymnasium of a National Guard armory where uniformed guardsmen still walk the puke-green–tiled halls. The screen itself was half the size that should be expected given the size of the space and the audience, and the projector was unable to display the films with the vibrancy and sharpness the images deserve. I hate the term “technical difficulties” because it sweeps the real issue (human mistakes or inadequate equipment) under the rug, and I heard it apologized for no fewer than a dozen time during this afternoon’s screening. (Apology accepted. Still, I expect better.) We were shown the last eleven films and the recorded awards announcement before being shown the first three films. The DVD player froze three-quarters of the way through Green Fans and we never got to see its conclusion.

Speaking of Green Fans, I can only presume that the judges awarded it the category award for best drama even though it is a documentary because there was not an actual drama submitted that warranted the honor.

It was a great shame to see two films, A Cold Room and Cosa Nostra, lazily cast teenagers and twenty-somethings as much older adults, as if there are no actors of the appropriate age to be found. A little networking and reaching out would go a long way and would spare us from having to stifle laughter when a young man calls a a peer actor his father.

Film is a difficult and extroverted medium; casting and location are as important as anything else, and to proceed as if either hurdle is particularly high in Lancaster is to display a lack of courage and willingness to engage the broader community in the production of a film. Mixed Nuts makes the location mistake, using a built-in bar in the basement of someone’s house instead of finding a way to shoot in an actual bar.

As much as I love and respect Derek Lau, I wish he had chosen against filming Craig Robbins’s Helmet Guy sketch, which I found to be neither funny nor in good taste for the way it makes fun of the mentally handicapped.

Amateurs/Pre-Professionals and Mentors

I was shocked to learn that Nik Korablin, who directed Mature for his Age, is a seventeen year-old high school senior. Whatever the film’s technical flaws (primarily in post-production), the individuality of the director and the strength of his idea are whole and rewarding. When I consider Korabin as well as Brendan Krick, who directed the pun-filled Going Bananas, it seems to me that offering more assistance to high school–age filmmakers would yield strong returns. For one thing, as I already mentioned, they (plus college students and other young adults) would benefit from having adult actors at their disposal for occasional small projects.

It’s my guess that Ryan Mast, a friend and a junior at Millersville University, would have felt a deeper satisfaction at his well-deserved award for best music video had there been any real competition. I know that I was disappointed that some of the true mentors of film in Lancaster didn’t contribute to making this year’s Rumschpringe a higher-caliber event and one that provided less-experienced filmmakers with advanced examples to emulate. I’m thinking specifically here of how there were no entries by Mary Haverstick (given the two options, I’d rather see a submission than have her serve as a juror), Allen Clements (whose great contributions to the festival I do not mean to overlook or understate), or Max Zug. Props to Joe Krzemienski for stepping up to the plate on this one.


All in all, I think this year’s Rumschpringe festival encapsulates Lancaster’s arts scene: it is still emerging. The best talent is top-notch but struggles with pushing itself further while bringing other artists along. If film, as with other art forms, somehow blossomed here overnight, the community wouldn’t be ready for it in terms of an audience base or infrastructure and behind-the-scenes talent.

I’m OK with this, because I believe this is what organic growth looks like. The next indicator we’ll get of that growth will be at the inaugural Lancaster Area Film Festival, which will feature longer films, at Liberty Place in Lancaster city on Saturday, May 2.