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Wex’s Ohio Shorts via Drive-In and Online

Hope Madden Hope Madden Wex’s Ohio Shorts via Drive-In and OnlinePhotos provided by Wexner Center for the Arts
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25 years?

“It does seem crazy, doesn’t it?”

Jennifer Lange, Curator of the Film/Video Studio Program at the Wexner Center for the Arts, can’t quite believe it’s been that long since the Wex first celebrated homegrown filmmaking with their Ohio Shorts program.

Ohio Shorts consists of a set of the best short films submitted by moviemakers from all over the state. Lange chalks up the program’s lasting popularity and impact to the way it sidesteps the traditional film festival approach.

“It’s really inclusive and inviting of all styles and experience levels,” she says. “I think that makes it very different than a lot of other organized film festivals. It lets it represent the personality of filmmakers living here in Ohio rather than dictating a personality. Some years maybe it’s more heavily animation or a performance kind of experimental work, but it invites and encourages all of those different styles. And then somehow all those different styles end up making a really awesome and cohesive program every year.”

Helping to deliver that cohesive program this year is Ohio Shorts alum Prentiss Haney, whose own work took home a prize in 2009. Haney curated the 2021 program.

“I was really ready to find other artists who are doing daring things to reflect this moment unlike any other moment in history. I wanted to highlight that work,” he says.

“He’s been great, really amazing,” says Lange, who approached Haney about curating during his recent visit to the Wex. “He talked about Ohio Shorts as being this incredible moment for him as an artist and an individual, how having this moment to give his work a platform had been incredibly formative. I thought, he’d be a great juror!

“Part of what made me say yes is that I think the stories we tell about the moment we’re living in through arts and culture is exactly how we push forth new ideas in the world,” Haney says. “How we actually make our communities stronger, how we help people be more visible, more seen.”

Haney was moved by what he saw in this year’s submissions.

“A part of what I was seeing were themes around isolation and around connection, but also themes around resilience and restoration and revolution, frankly. Those things felt really true about how these last 12 months have gone,” he says. “Some of these artists have really tapped into the core of what people in Ohio have been thinking about. I was just so thankful to be able to curate a show that I think reflects our last year.”

The art center’s free, annual showcase of Ohio talent will screen the best of the Buckeye state on Thursday, April 15 at the South Drive-In (3050 S. High St.). After that, the 2-hour set of shorts will stream on the Wex’s website from Saturday, April 17 through Saturday, May 1.

“I remember being in this position last year and panicking about what we were going to do, and we made the decision at the last minute to move the program online,” Lange recalls. “It was crazy successful with more than 3,000 views. People were streaming from different countries all around the world.”

This year, she was hoping for the best of both worlds.

“We’re limited to 300 seats in our physical theater,” she says. “It’s awesome in person, it really is, and we miss that. But we also learned that we have this whole different audience and this opportunity to present this amazing world.”

Lange says it was an easy decision to retain a virtual element.

“We decided last year that pretty much no matter what we would stream the program again this year,” she says. “We hoped we would be back in our own video theater, but once we looked at the year and realized where we were, the next best thing is going to the drive-in. I think filmmakers really love seeing their work on the big screen.”

“I had just started filmmaking when I won this film festival in 2009,” Haney recalls. “What it did for me was validating and affirming the stories I wanted to tell. My experiences were something people wanted to hear, worth the effort that I put into telling the stories. For new filmmakers, it’s so important to have places like Ohio Shorts. You can see your art reflected on a big screen. You can see people actually respond to it. It tells you yes, you can continue to do this work.”

For more information, including the program’s full program lineup, visit wexarts.org.

Follow Hope on Twitter at @maddwolf and listen to her weekly movie review podcast, THE SCREENING ROOM.

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