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Sycamore students get closeups with filmmakers

SYCAMORE – Michael Dunker knows he’s fortunate to work in the film industry.

The 1999 Sycamore High School graduate, who now works as a filmmaker in Los Angeles, said the failure rate tends to be extremely high for people who want to break into filmmaking, but his passion for the craft makes it worth facing the fear of failure. 

“Everything you want is on the other side of fear,” he said to an audience of about 600 Sycamore High School students. “And everything is going to be scary if you go after what you believe in.” 

On Friday, Dunker was one of several filmmakers who attended a special screening at the high school of films that were part of the third annual Sycamore Film Festival. The festival began in 2011 when Shela Lahey, founder and executive director of the festival, wanted to promote student films and help students pursue filmmaking. Proceeds from the festival support Sycamore High School scholarships for students interested in education or careers in the arts, according to its website.

Although the festival offered screenings for general audiences Friday evening, the screening at the high school is special for the filmmakers, who get to interact with students and answer their questions. DeKalb resident Seth Deming, who had three films shown at the high school, said talking with students is the best part. 

“After we showed our videos to them, I had a bunch of them coming up to me and asking me questions,” he said. “I had one kid message me on YouTube and ask, ‘Can we get together and talk about how you do visual effects?’ ”

Tim Carlson, Sycamore High School principal, said having the film festival and filmmakers come to the high school gives students the chance to network with them and set up mentoring opportunities. It’s something that wouldn’t be possible in a classroom, he said. 

“It’s a great opportunity for our kids to literally meet some of the best people in the world in this industry,” he said. 

Deming’s interest in making movies began when he saw a short film on YouTube and decided it was the career for him. He started reading books on filmmaking and taking classes online taught by industry professionals. He got a job with a production company before deciding to run his own.

Deming said he loves when people ask why they should go into filmmaking, given the shaky job market. His response is that people should do whatever they are passionate about.

“You have to say yes to yourself and also have to not listen to that person who is telling you you can’t do it,” he said. “That person needs to just shut up.” 

Sycamore High School junior Matthew Johnson said his favorite film at Friday’s screening was “Expired,” written and directed by Edward Heffernan, which he thought was well-written. Johnson said he found the talks by the filmmakers inspirational because he always has had a passion for music. 

“I guess it’s kind of driving me to go toward that more,” Johnson said about the festival.

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