Young Kiwi filmmakers seek a chance for silent fame

by Luke Jackson / 25 September, 2017

Soundtrack composer Nathan Avakian plays Baycourt Theatre’s Mighty Wurlitzer at last year’s regional finals.

The countdown is on for young Kiwi filmmakers to score their three minutes of fame.

International Youth Silent Film Festival founder Jon Palanuk was at the theatre enjoying an organ concert in his hometown of Portland, USA when he looked around at the older crowd and thought it was a shame young people were missing out. “I wished there was a way to reintroduce this piece of musical history to the younger generation.”

So, in 2009, he launched a competition for young filmmakers around the world to make an original three-minute silent film. Entries that make the finals are screened to an audience, accompanied live by an organist playing one of nine scores composed by talented young New Yorker Nathan Avakian.

Watch part of last year's New Zealand first place winning film, An Homage by Micah Winiata, Fenella Bowater, George Sharman: 


The New Zealand regional finals will be held on November 22 at a glamorous red-carpet event at Tauranga’s Baycourt Theatre, where the Mighty Wurlitzer – the theatre’s famous in-house organ – will rise from beneath the stage to provide a soundtrack to the films. One of only four in the country, the organ adds a sense of history, says theatre director Megan Peacock Coyle.

“You’re watching a silent film as you would have 100 years ago.”

Expanding the festival to other countries, including New Zealand, Iran and China, was important to Palanuk, who’s been impressed with the quality of our submissions. “Because they are silent, these movies can transcend culture and langage and go back to the very ethos of storytelling,” he says. “It’s exciting to see what’s happening in the minds of young people around the world.”

Last year, 10-year-old Liam Davison from Wellington – the youngest contestant in the history of the festival – placed third in the regionals and was flown to the grand finals in Portland. This year’s deadline is October 1, and you must be aged 20 or younger to enter (for more details, visit 

This was published in the September 2017 issue of North & South.



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