BYU’s annual Public Domain Film and Music Festival returns

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BYU students gathered at the Varsity Theatre to choose from 1927 public domain works to create their own adaptations in the Public Domain Film and Music Festival on Jan. 20.

The students chose their public works based on a draft system, and have 10 days to create their films, present them in front of a panel of judges and compete for $3,000 in cash prizes.

Alfred Hitchcock’s film “The Ring,” Agatha Christie’s novel “The Big Four” and Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes” were included in the selection of works that the contestants could choose from.

According to the Public Domain Film and Music Festival homepage, the festival began in 2019 when the BYU Copyright Licensing Office hosted the event in collaboration with the BYU College of Fine Arts and Communications to celebrate the arrival of new public domain works released in 1924. Students were given 48 hours to create an original film based on the public domain they had chosen.

Over the years, the festival has grown from a small event over a couple of days to a full-blown 10-day event involving students from BYU’s College of Fine Arts and Communications and School of Music to create the films.

Students at both BYU and BYU—Idaho have been given the opportunity to participate in the festival this year. This is part of the Copyright Licensing Office’s effort to expand the festival to other secondary education institutions.

Kenny Baldwin, assistant director of operations for the Copyright Licensing Office, explains how the festival is preparing to grow even more. “We haven’t expanded it yet, but conversations are starting to develop with similar schools where we can hopefully bring more schools together to participate,” Baldwin said.

The Copyright Licensing Office started the public domain film and music festival because they wanted to create a fun event for students that would help them learn more about copyright law and how to apply it in real-life projects, according to Baldwin.

“Our purpose with the festival is to try to give students some type of hands-on learning experience with rights management because they are going to be facing that the rest of their careers in a creative field,” he said.  

Assistant Director Kenny Baldwin begins the public domain draft. Teams were randomly selected to choose their domain works.
(Ethan Porter)

Bruce Brockett, captain of one of the competing teams, said he finds the challenge of a short deadline for the film a fun opportunity.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to make a film really quickly since projects frequently drag out. The thing I love about this film festival is that there is a hard deadline, so you know you are getting a finished product in 10 days, ” Brockett said.

According to another team captain, Nelson Makechnie, the pressure of creating a short film in such a short time can be an incredibly difficult task for students who are working and attending classes each day. Learning to balance all of this time is a very important element for students to succeed.

“It’s all about time. Finding time even when we have school and work. I care about the arts and I want to make the best movie that I can,” Makechnie said.

The festival also helps students network and build relationships with other creatives in their chosen fields, Baldwin said. The festival gives them the opportunity to build these relationships and to work as teams to complete a task under a deadline.

“Just being in proximity with the people who are working on the same stuff as you are one of the benefits of working on this project,” participant Tim Ballard said.

The 2022 festival was the most successful to date with over 100 participants and over 350 screening attendees as well as some prominent judges on the panel including Hollywood producer Shane Stanley, known for his producer credit on “Gridiron Gan,” according to the Public Domain Film and Music Festival homepage.

The 2023 event looks to build on the success of last year’s festival with the return of Shane Stanley on the judges’ panel, Baldwin said.

Participant Larkyn Lewis said she is excited to share her movie with a producer as prominent as Stanley. “I think it is a great opportunity. It’s also just more motivation to do better. I don’t think of it as debilitating or scary,” Lewis said.

The finished films are due on Jan. 30 at 5 p.m. The public screening event will then take place on Feb. 10 from 7-8:30 p.m. where the winners will be announced.

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