Film contest highlights urban philanthropy

When Tangletown resident Jesse Roesler was a journalism student, he thought big cities often got a bum rap in the news, so last year he started a community-focused film contest to change how people view at least one city: his.

This year, he and his wife, Jen, are working hard to put the second annual Filmanthropist Project on track to become a statewide, potentially nationwide, event.

The contest aims to highlight folks who are doing positive things in their urban communities. Registration began Aug. 31 and will run until Nov. 30. Filmmakers of any skill level are encouraged to submit entries that are three to five minutes in length.

“Pretty much, if you have a camera and a computer, you could enter this contest,” he said. “It’s hard for independent filmmakers to find venues, and this is a great chance to get your film shown.”

Films are judged by a five-member panel of nationally-known filmmakers.

“I love seeing what grassroots efforts are looking like today,” said Emily Goldberg, a nationally recognized documentary filmmaker who judged the contest last year.

Judges use a point system to determine the best film based on three considerations. The judges look at the community impact of the film subject, storytelling ability of the filmmaker and production value, which is weighted least of the three categories to accommodate filmmakers with smaller budgets.

More than $1,000 worth of prizes will be awarded to the top three winners. Last year’s first-place recipient, Kevin McKeever, won $500 for his piece on the Northeast Minneapolis organization Men Against Destruction, Defending Against Drugs and Social Disorder (MAD DADS). Second place received $300 and a gift basket and third place received $200 and a similar basket.

Last year, Roesler donated close to half of the prize money out-of-pocket. This year, he and his wife are searching for more donors and sponsors amidst difficult economic conditions.

Jen Roesler said she and her husband were spending about 10 hours per week organizing the event on top of working full-time jobs, getting the word out and searching for sponsors. They spend increasing amounts of time on the project as the event draws nearer.

“But with every submission, though, it feels worth it,” Jen Roesler said. She has focused primarily on publicity for the event and locating sponsors.

So far, sponsors for this year’s event include Mojo Solo and Delicious Filmworks. Emergence Filmmakers are giving prize money. IFP is a fiscal sponsor and Jessen Press is printing flyers for the event at no cost. All donations to the project are tax deductible.

No venue has been chosen, but Roesler has been talking to the Mall of America about using the theatre there. Roesler is hoping to find a theatre willing to host the 90-minute event at a reduced price, perhaps even for free. Last year the event took place on a snowy December evening at the Riverview Theatre, which was rented at a discounted price of $400.

The top ten films will be shown and prizes will be given out in mid-December. Because a venue has not been chosen, no date has been set for the event, although Roesler is aiming for a Dec. 13 screening. He and his wife are anticipating an attendance of 300 people, double what it was last year. The event is entirely free and open to the public.

“This festival has a particularly good vibe to it,” said Kevin McKeever. “It’s local.”

Roesler hopes to continue the contest in future years, archive the videos in local libraries, and spread the contest to other cities.

To volunteer or donate, visit and click on the “make a donation” button, or send e-mail to [email protected] More information about the contest is available on the website.

Reach Kathryn Holahan at 436-4363 or [email protected]