Calvin students enter 36-hour film contest

This January, Calvin film students go head-to-head with teams from the six other regional film programs in the 36-Hour Challenge, hosted by the Grand Rapids Film Festival (GRFF). For the competition, teams script, shoot, edit and submit six-minute films within 36 hours, a time constraint film professor Sam Smartt calls “intense.”

Smartt hopes the Challenge will connect students to the local film community. “It’s really important for students to get outside the ‘Calvin bubble’ and for them to realize that the reason they’re making films is for audiences,” he said.

As part of a team sponsored by the film department or on teams they create, students will not only challenge themselves to make a film as fast as possible, but challenge their creativity by including required thematic elements — one of which is to tell a “transformative” story.

Calvin film students “are drawn to stories that matter,” according to Smartt. The department aims to give students the skill set necessary to tell effective stories, but Smartt said he becomes simply a cheerleader and counselor for his upper-level students, such as those who filmed “Jubileo: A Parable of Christian Fellowship” in Mexico this summer.

“The transformative nature of that story is theirs,” said Smartt. “I just like to harness their creative energy and help them get where they’re going. It’s one of my greatest joys as a professor to watch students do that.”

Nathan Roels, a senior film major whose film “Renardo,” a documentary following a murderer’s journey to redemption, debuts at next Tuesday night’s Media Showcase, finds the competition’s theme inspiring. “I like being able to tell stories of redemption or hopeful stories,” he said. “Stories can make a difference and impact in ways that other media can’t.”

The 36-Hour Challenge begins at 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27 after an 8 p.m. reception and presentation at Snow Monster Studios in downtown Grand Rapids. Teams submit their completed films at 9 a.m. on January 29. Select films, chosen by a panel of judges including Traverse City Film Festival Executive Director Deb Lake, screen at Celebration Cinema North on Friday, Feb. 3.

Beyond this competition, GRFF engages Calvin’s student population through internships.

“I have two Calvin students this semester,” said GRFF President Jen Shaneberger, “though neither are film students. GRFF is more than an event. We’re a nonprofit. It takes a great amount of effort to impact the film community in a meaningful way, and we look for help in a wide variety of majors.”

To register for the Challenge by Jan. 1, visit