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Felix Adamo/ The Californian

Young student filmmakers recall their first days on the set at the Heritage Bible Church. From left, Andrew Beard, Gracee Neal, Grace Barrett, Gabriel Garcia, and Joshua Garcia. They have films entered in the Christian Youth Film Festival.

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Felix Adamo/ The Californian

Credentials for the upcoming Christian Youth Film Festival to be held at the Fox Theater on March 9th.

A lot can go wrong while making a movie. An actor's availability might change, equipment can break and then there's that pesky boom mic popping its furry head into the top of a frame. But Hollywood's finest filmmakers aren't the only ones who know how to overcome obstacles and make the piece of art they set out to create.

Young filmmakers Gracee Neal and Grace Barrett experienced all kinds of movie-making headaches while working on their short film, "Movie Undone." But along the way, the best friends also learned how to solve problems and make a great film.

"Even though so much had gone wrong ... no one backed down," said Neal of her 11-member cast and crew. "They still wanted to share the Gospel."

The Hertiage Junior High eighth-graders, along with other young filmmakers, will showcase their short films at the 20th annual Christian Youth Film Festival at the Fox Theater this weekend.

Joe Brown and Chuck Adkins, then youth pastors at Fellowship Bible Church and Bakersfield Christian Life Center respectively, started the film festival in 1994 to poke a little fun at Hollywood's many awards ceremonies. Films were shown on VHS and Betamax and awards were old sports trophies.

Twenty years and several new technologies later, Brown runs the festival on his own, keeping the lighthearted ribbing of Hollywood while celebrating the efforts of young filmmakers. (When Adkins left his work in youth ministry for another job in 1999, he also left the festival, though he will make a return this year on the occasion of the event's milestone anniversary, to reminisce about the early days.)

The festival challenges young Christians to fulfill their creative itches while serving God and sharing their testimony.

"It's all about encouraging young people to tell visual stories of faith," said Brown, now the youth pastor at Heritage Bible Church and mentor to the budding filmmakers there.

Barrett initially wasn't so sure she would compete in the festival -- until Brown thrust a camera at her.

"That was all the encouragement I needed," Barrett said. "I was like 'OK, I guess I'm doing this!'"

This year, 15 films will screen in two divisions: teen and college. There are several submissions from Bakersfield and other valley cities like Shafter and Fresno, but entries are not limited geographically, and groups from as far as Tennessee and Toronto also have entered.

Only films in the teen division can win the three best picture awards; the four college films will compete for one best picture award. Cash prizes for those four awards total more than $2,800. All films are eligible for trophy awards, such as best actor, screenplay and original score.

"When the kids watch their names in the credits, the look on their faces is priceless," Brown said. "For 10 minutes, they're stars on one of the biggest screens in Bakersfield."

The 15 films are divided into two screenings. Films will only be shown in one of the two screenings, and awards will be given out at the later show.

In between the two screenings, the filmmakers will be treated like stars, Brown said. A VIP dinner will include opportunities to talk to Hollywood actors and guest judges Basil Hoffman and Jenn Gotzon.

But it's not the glamour of the awards and red carpet at the theater that motiviates the filmmakers, said one participant.

"I wanted to tell the world about Christ through movies, something I like to make," said Joshua Garcia, a seventh-grader at New Life Center.

Garcia and his younger brother Gabriel, a fifth-grader at New Life Center, worked with a team to create "Production Meeting." In it, art imitates life as the characters try to think of an idea for a movie. Fortunately, the real-life search for an idea wasn't as tumultuous as it is in the movie.

"They fought, literally!" Gabriel Garcia said of the characters. "They're tackling each other."

In addition to creativity, originality and technical merit, films are judged on their spiritual statement. "Fully Human," created by the Silent No More club at Frontier High School, tells the story of a pregnant teen's struggle to decide what to do with her unborn baby. One of the film's creators, Andrew Beard, said faith is an important part of his life.

"Today everything is really secular," Beard said. "You don't see a lot of Christian films. It's important to put Christ on the world stage."

Beard said he plans to study film in college. But he won't be the only Christian Youth Film Festival alumnus to take an interest in film beyond the festival.

"There will be and have been young people who have gone on to make (film) a career," Brown said, listing church media directors, wedding videographers and commercial directors as a few jobs alumni now have. "I would be surprised if in this group no one went into the industry. There are some very good movies this year."

And the opportunities for exposure don't end this weekend. The second Outside the Box Bakersfield Film Festival, which includes a spiritual category, will be held in November. Brown, who helped bring the film festival to fruition last fall, noted that past Christian Youth Film Festival filmmaker Iain Carson won an award, for his post-apocalyptic "2020."

Although both festivals keep Brown busy, he doesn't think there's any conflict between the two.

"They're far enough apart that it hasn't been too much trouble," Brown said. "It's nice to have another film festival in town to compare notes with and bounce ideas off of."