The young and the visionary

“Daniel … you happy?”

This is my annual phone call from Dr. William Bronston, the driving force behind the Tower of Youth, or the 19th annual North American All Youth Film and Education Day. The all-day festival, which returns to the Crest Theatre on Friday, October 2, consists entirely of student-made short films selected and judged by a jury of age-appropriate peers. Bronston also books industry guest speakers and provides educational outreach opportunities for kids who are interested in making films.

Yes, I am happy to hear from Dr. Bill.

Tower of Youth is Dr. Bill's baby, and this year he spent several weeks and more than $1,200 worth of pizza poring over the far-flung entries alongside his student judges. I have covered the festival over the last few years, and so I know that the technical quality and artistic precociousness of the selected films is always considerably high. This year's entries are no exception, with the student filmmakers employing an array of narrative and visual styles over a wide range of genres including dramas and comedies, documentaries and music videos.

As always, these wildly disparate films collectively serve as a hot-button checklist of adolescent fears and anxieties. The films I watched touched on such heavy themes as police brutality and racial profiling (Street Literature), shadeism and colorism (Society's Coloring Book), poverty (If I Had a Trillion Dollars), genocide (The Rhythm of Healing) and drug and alcohol dependency (Growing Apart: The Politics of Separation).

Beyond the burgeoning political and cultural consciousness on display, there is also a keen awareness of mortality in these films, whether embedded in the Twilight Zone-like twists of Harvard-Westlake student Henry Quilici's clever Gray Matter, or faced more directly in the dreamlike story-poem of Costa Mesa high schooler Joshua Ovalle's Two and a Quarter Minutes, where a young man imagines his final thoughts before drowning.

Other generational concerns are addressed in Nathan Dang's Crossroad, about a teenager reflecting on his uncertain future, and in Charles Blecker's The Other Side of Midnight, a nonlinear fakeout about the need for compassion in a harsh world. However, San Francisco Art & Film student Laura Hanson's Forgetting, about an old man slipping between the cracks of memory and consciousness, tops them all. Through a brilliant use of sound and montage, Forgetting becomes a haunting and highly cinematic depiction of Alzheimer's from the inside out. It's the unquestioned highlight of the festival.

The Tower of Youth festival runs from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and while a number of area schools will bus in students for the day, the event will also be webcast live. Tickets will also be available at the Crest Theatre, 1013 K Street, the day of the event for $10-$15. For more information, visit