Three years after finishing his thesis at Red Deer College, former film student Jeff Woodward submitted it to its first film festival.
He came away with one of two awards from the interPLAY Film Festival in Fort McMurray. His thesis film earning one award and a newer short film earned an award for he and his lead actress.
Winning for both the best short film narrative and best feature film narrative, Woodward was happy with how the festival went.
His thesis and winner for best feature film narrative, Tumaini: Leave A Little Room For Hope, tells the story of a teacher who fancies himself as an inspiration to his students, similar to the Dead Poets Society teacher.
“He’s just returned from his first trip to Africa and he’s really experienced abject poverty for the first time in his life,” said Woodward. “He’s experiencing the guilt any normal person would experience after seeing people living and dying like that.”
Because of this experience the teacher gets a ‘Bono-complex,’ believing he can save the world and by doing so he misses that he is making an impact on the lives of the students he teaches. Eventually, he has a mental breakdown and has his classroom haunted by a 10-year-old African girl. His students have to save him from himself.
“For whatever reason, we had never actually submitted it to this particular festival, which obviously we should have done,” said Woodward.
The second film, the short One More Night, was Woodward’s first directing effort. It was shot in Edmonton last November and focuses on the awkward conversation surrounding a breakup.
“It’s the morning after the night together, after you’ve broken up,” said Woodward. “A couple meets at the party, end up spending the night together and we catch up when they wake up the next morning and it is about that really awkward conversation when one person really wants it to be over and the other wants to keep going.
“It is pretty raw, actually.”
Woodward’s friend and Red Deer native Whitney Richter played one person in the couple, along with Kayla Bigras. She won best actress at the festival.
“Their performances were spectacular really,” said Woodward. “For me the job was to get out of the way and let them act.”
It debuted at the Interrobang Film Festival in Des Moines, Iowa, before being submitted to the interPLAY festival.
Woodward chose to submit to the interPLAY festival because it was a smaller Alberta one. He said he felt the films had a better chance at finding an audience at the smaller festival than at a larger one.
The awards were handed out on Aug. 4. The film festival ran from Aug. 2 to 4.
“It was really surprising,” said Woodward. “It was a last-minute decision to enter those films, so it was surprising and then, obviously, very gratifying, and to have Whitney Richter win for best actress for One More Night, it’s obviously very nice to have acknowledgement on your work in that manner.
“Even though it is a small but growing festival, the crew up there do a really good job. It is a top-notch festival and it is a nice festival to get that acknowledgement from.”
Woodward, who now lives in Edmonton, is working on a couple of feature films: a documentary project and a television show, all of which are in the beginning stages.