Mount Gretna is rolling out the red carpet for the premiere of the first-ever Mount Gretna International Film Festival. 

The short films, which must have a total run time of no more than five minutes, will be shown at the Mount Gretna Playhouse on Sunday, Aug. 18, from noon to 3 p.m. The event is part of the two-day Mount Gretna Outdoor Art Show on Aug. 17-18.

“This is the 50th Mount Gretna Art Show and we’re celebrating the Year of the Arts,” said art show director Kerry Royer. “We’re adding a film festival as part of our artistic offerings for the show.”

Royer said the film festival is being held to “support and celebrate emerging and established filmmakers in their shared passion for cinema as an all-encompassing art form.” 

“Film includes storytelling, acting, cinematography, editing, and it’s visual, it’s spiritual, it’s emotional, and we really wanted to include that aspect of the arts with the art show this year,” she said. “This is the first and I hope it won’t be the last.” 

The festival is running in partnership with the family of Michael “Evan” Deitzler to honor his memory. Mike, his father, Vicki, his mother, and Austin, his brother, are sponsoring all of the monetary awards from contributions they received in his memory.

Deitzler – a Lebanon County native who had a career at Warren Lotas in California after participating in Cedar Crest High School’s broadcast program and graduating magna cum laude with a film degree from Temple University – died last March at age 30.

The upcoming Mount Gretna International Film Festival is in memory of Lebanon County native Michael “Evan” Deitzler, who had a career in the film industry in California. (Provided photo)

To honor his memory, the Best of the Festival will be presented to one film. That film will receive a $1,000 award for being Best in Show.

“To have that one bear his name is special to us. We think it is a beautiful way to remember and honor him. He would be so humbled by this and very pleased that it will encourage filmmakers and support them. That would make him happy,” added Vicki. 

The Best in Show award will be called the “Vita Maxima” (“The Greatest Life”), which Deitzler said aptly describes the time her son spent in Gretna.

“He would say to us that ‘I have the greatest life,’ said Vicki. “Growing up here, he said he had the best childhood and loved performing at the Lebanon Community Theater as well as being part of the media program at Cedar Crest. He felt just as deeply about the opportunities he had and the family of friends he made in California.”

The idea for a film festival in Mount Gretna, in some ways, can be contributed to Evan, according to Vicki. She noted that he loved to make and watch short films, so all entries at the festival will be in that genre.

“He used to say to me, ‘Mom, Mount Gretna needs a film festival. That’s something that you and I should work on some day.’ He said that to me numerous times. And he came home for the art show every year since he moved to California in 2015,” said Vicki. 

Although not a Gretna native, Evan cherished the memories he made at the lake in the summer months as a boy who was reared in Lebanon as well as with friends when he’d come to visit from the home he made in California.

“He loved all things Mount Gretna,” said Vicki. “When he was home one time he suggested we get a cottage in Mount Gretna. … We ended up doing it! And we had the best time at that cottage as a family.”

Royer said the film festival organizers have strategically planned to ensure the event is prestigious. Among the committee members and event organizers are individuals with film backgrounds, which includes the broadcast teachers at Cedar Crest and several of the school’s award-winning students.

Read More: Student filmmakers from Cedar Crest HS enter flicks in national competition

“We convened a group of people to be on the committee who have some background in film festivals and who have some background in the technical aspects that we’ll be using in the playhouse,” said Royer. “We have put our application on, which helps make us an international film festival since we’ll be able to accept entries from anywhere. We’re also putting together a panel of judges to jury the entries.”

Another incentive will hopefully entice filmmakers. 

“We’re also offering prize money, so it will be attractive to get an award,” said Royer about the top prizes of $1,000, $500 and $250 across various, but not all, categories.

There will be several divisions for filmmakers and aspiring artists to showcase their talents with each participant permitted a total of two film entries. Top three cash prizes will be awarded in the comedy, documentary/commentary, drama, and horror categories.

“The committee had been put together and included teachers Cody Hassler and Jack Wuori from the broadcast group at Cedar Crest, and what’s exciting is that we also have some of the students, including my son, Finn, and his friends Reed Fretz and Logan Balmer,” said Royer. “We had input from them as well about what categories we should focus on, especially for short films.”

Consideration for what categories would be selected included a timing element.

“We also have a tight deadline between our calls for entries and when the entries are due, so they suggested those as categories. And we choose horror as well because that is a category that Evan was interested in,” added Royer. 

There will be a special division for aspiring high school student filmmakers with three top awards to that category. Students must be ages 14 through 2024 graduation with proper student ID.

“We decided to also have a high school call for entries,” said Royer. “We had some great input from students in high school who are interested in film and we wanted to do the high school category because we want to encourage young filmmakers. Finn, Reed, and Logan have agreed not to enter a film since they are helping to organize it.”

Aspiring filmmakers who are Lebanon County residents will have a chance to shine in the spotlight. One first-place winner for the Hometown Spotlight for Lebanon County residents will be awarded.

“This film festival is in honor of Michael ‘Evan’ Deitzler and he grew up in this area and was inspired to create,” said Royer. “He loved the creative atmosphere in Mount Gretna and Lebanon County, so we thought it fitting to have a local spotlight category. It’s really meaningful artistically and it’s really meaningful personally.”

The festival will also recognize Craft Awards across all four categories for the Best in Show in the following areas: acting, cinematography, direction, editing, sound design, and writing.

“People will enter under one of the categories and those are the awards, but the judges will recognize the Craft Awards, which don’t have a monetary value,” said Royer. “If there’s a film that’s screened that maybe doesn’t win first place but maybe wins Best Acting or Best Sound. So those are an additional honor of recognition.” 

Even though there’s no monetary value for the Craft Awards honorees, Royer said it is important to recognize them. “I think because so much work goes into so many aspects of creating a film that we wanted to have these extra categories to recognize excellence when we see it.” 

Festival attendees will be able to get in on the action by selecting the Audience Choice winner.

“I think there’s an excitement around having Audience Choice and there’s also the element of audience interaction that has the element of surprise that we all get to experience during the awards ceremony,” said Royer.

She said an unknown variable is how many films can be shown since their lengths will vary.

“We are planning to screen all of the award winners and there will be some figuring out of the timing depending on the length of those winners. If we can screen more, we will. But right now, it’s a numbers game that we’ll have to figure out,” she added.

Royer is hopeful for a flood of entries given the buzz around the film festival’s announcement.

“I will tell you every time we announce it to a new group the excitement over it is electric,” she said. “I am also getting so much positivity and excitement from young filmmakers to enter a local film festival, especially in its inaugural year.”

Royer explained that being the first-ever film festival in Gretna carries a certain level of significance to filmmakers.

“It’s something we haven’t done before and there’s an element of it, the participation of entering a film and getting to create something and participate in this artistic community with this outdoor playhouse,” said Royer. “I think the venue is going to be a wonderful aspect of it as well. The art show is a nationally known art show, so there is some cachet there for the festival with the art show.”

2024 is being celebrated as the ‘Year of the Arts’ in Lebanon County. Numerous events will be held to celebrate it, including the first-ever Mount Gretna International Film Festival during the Mount Gretna Outdoor Art Show on the third weekend in August. (Provided image)

It’s only appropriate that a film festival would come to Lebanon County with 2024 being proclaimed by Lebanon County Commissioners as the ‘Year of the Arts.’

Read More: Mount Gretna and Lebanon County celebrate ‘Year of the Arts’ in 2024

“The ‘Year of the Arts’ is part of this being the 50th show and it’s the focus of Visit Lebanon Valley to highlight arts and culture throughout the county this year,” said Royer. “We’ve also had all of the municipalities that have a neighborhood in Mount Gretna declare 2024 as ‘Year of the Arts,’ so we’re doing all kinds of art programming throughout the year.”  

A fund-raising event in January kicked off this special year of commemoration and celebration of all things art in the county and especially in Mount Gretna, which is known for its rich arts community.

“Proceeds from that fund-raising event will fund a number of arts-inspired activities, and the film festival is one of them,” added Royer.

Individuals wishing to enter a film can check out the festival’s rules page for more details. Submission deadline is June 15 with screening notification to occur for those filmmakers whose entries are selected to be shown at the festival on July 15. 

If You Go: Entrance to the film festival is included in the $15 gate admission to the art show. Filmmakers selected for screening at the festival will receive two complimentary tickets to the Mount Gretna Outdoor Art Show.

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James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; Lancaster...


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