Second chances help win awards

The theme for this year’s 168 Film Project, “Second Chances,” would seem to apply to some of the back stories of the entries that competed in the ninth annual film festival.

In the competition, filmmakers randomly choose a Bible verse and have 168 hours — one week — to write a script, cast the actors, film and edit their entries, which must run for just 11 minutes or less. Some 90 films were screened Thursday and Friday at the Hope Theatre in San Fernando, with the final screening day and awards presentation occurring Saturday evening at the Alex Theatre in Glendale. Twenty films were nominated in 21 categories, competing for more than $15,000 in cash and prizes.

Co-executive producers Michael Mitchell, of Glendale, and Sarah Abel, of Los Angeles, won the Best Animated Film category with “Stranded,” based on the verse Matthew 18:32-33. They used old-school, stop-action technique and shot each sequence with a digital still camera.

Winning was definitely unexpected, Mitchell said.

“Last year I really felt God was telling me to do it, but two weeks before the competition, things fell apart,” he said.

He joined another team and thought to himself, “Well, there’s always next year.”

“So this year, I met up with Sarah and found out she enjoyed claymation stuff,” he said. “I told her my idea, and she said, ‘that’s great.’ In a week and half, the entire team came together. We had 10 to 12 people, including the modelers and the animators who moved the characters.”

Second chances also seemed appropriate for the film team that won the most awards. Led by producer/director Owen Kingston and co-produced by Tom Cooper, “Child’s Play,” based on Psalm 18:16-17, received six awards.

Last year, Kingston tried to juggle too many things, including cinematography, and didn’t receive any nominations. This year, he learned from his mistakes, said John Ware, founder and president of the 168 Film Project.

“Owen represents a big part of what we are trying to do,” Ware said. “People come in, make a film and always learn something. But in the case of Owen, he put what he learned into practice. He went from zero nominations last year to 14 this year.”

Kingston took stock in what his strengths and weaknesses, Ware added.

“He got a cinematographer and that allowed him to concentrate on directing,” he said.

Winning was a phenomenal experience, Kingston said.

“We didn’t expect to make the short list this year, the top 20 films,” he said.

The Best Film award went to husband-and-wife producers Dennis and Olivia Bentivengo’s “Useless,” which is based on Philemon 1:10-11.

“They are another example of having a great team around you,” Ware said. “Their actors were great — amazing — and they did a good job in every area, and that let them edge out some of the other great productions. I think they deserved it. It was a difficult decision and I wouldn’t have wanted to have been on the jury.”

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