Wednesday, Feb 27 2013 10:18 AM

What started as a spoof is now a main attraction

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    By Photo courtesy of Joe Brown

    The audience settles in at the Fox Theater before the start of the movie at the 2012 Christian Youth Film Festival.

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BY ALLIE CASTRO Contributing writer

While awards season in Hollywood may be winding down, awards season in Bakersfield is just getting started: The red carpet will be rolled out Sunday for the Christian Youth Film Festival at the Fox Theater.

Among the nine entries this year are a zombie film focusing on how to rise from the dead, a submission from Texas featuring "Lord of the Rings"-style elves, and a Claymation retelling of the biblical story of Jonah and the whale. All films must be under 10 minutes and address a spiritual issue. The festival is open only to youth groups ranging from junior high to college level.

Despite his lack of filmmaking knowledge, Bakersfield pastor Joe Brown said inspiration for the festival struck years ago when he realized teens around town had few creative outlets to express themselves. Brown then reached out to various youth groups in the city and proposed an Academy Awards spin-off complete with awards categories, trophies and even cash prizes.

Although some past participants have moved into careers in show business, most participants are just there to have fun.

"Many don't pursue filmmaking as a business, but they do learn a better way of telling their stories," Brown said. "And not just stories of the Bible or of faith, but how to tell stories to their kids and grandkids someday. Hopefully they'll be a little bit better because of the film festival."

The traveling festival's first years, held in the decorated lobbies of churches around town, screened four or five "films," made with a variety of technologies, including a slide show. As a tongue-in-cheek nod to Hollywood's obsession with pageantry and self-congratulation, the first red carpet was made of butcher paper; the first golden statuettes were repurposed softball and bowling trophies; the first "designer" clothes consisted of retro (read ugly) tuxedos, tiaras and elbow-length gloves; and the first "paparazzi" didn't even have film in their cameras, just bright flashbulbs to add to the ambience.

Though the event has maintained its whimsical sense of self-awareness, the competition has gradually become more competitive, and the growing audiences reflect the improved quality and ambition of the films, Brown said.

The event has moved to the more luxurious surroundings of the Fox Theater, entries have come from as far as Mexico City, Washington and South Carolina, and filmmaking has gone from rough-cut VHS movies to well-polished shorts.

The judging process is being taken more seriously as well, drawing industry professionals to render their verdicts. This year's panel includes, among others, actress and independent movie producer Barbara Kerr Condon, Hollywood acting coach Clay Banks and Marvel creative consultant Trenton Waterson, who just finished post-production on "Iron Man 3."

The festival's $10 admission grants entry to the MC-hosted film screening, the post-screening awards ceremony and an ice cream social that will finish the night on a sweet note. The family-friendly event typically draws upwards of 600 people.

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