Eric Sibley got his dream job working in Manhattan as a 3-D artist for the American Movie Company. While he landed the position straight out of college, Sibley’s inspiration originally came from Long Island’s Strictly Students Film Festival. In 2006, at age 16, Sibley won honors for Best Animation for his three-minute film, Goodbye Balloon. The recognition hooked him.

“It was a good opportunity to get my name out there,” Sibley says. “It gave me the confidence that I needed. It was then I decided this was what I really wanted to do.”

The lifelong Smithtown resident continued his initial success in the following year’s film festival by winning honorable mention for his animated feature Operation Midnight.
Run by the nonprofit Strictly Students Film Festival, Inc., the Strictly Students Film Festival began in 2005. It seeks to inspire talented young filmmakers to pursue their passion and further their education to prepare them for careers in film. Local volunteers from the business community and industry professionals comprise the organization behind the festival. According to its Web site, the festival provides high school students with an opportunity to share the films they create with a true audience, have them judged by a jury of industry professionals and receive recognition.

Sibley isn’t the only teen to compete in the Strictly Students Film Festival and walk away with honors and confidence. During the past five years, the festival has featured the works of hundreds of high school students. Some of them have gone on to pursue film careers and attend prestigious film schools.

Sibley attended Full Sail University in Orlando, Florida. The college offers 23 degrees that span the field of entertainment media.

“It was hard and intense, everything I wanted it to be and dreamed of doing,” Sibley says. “I absolutely loved it.”

The Strictly Students Film Festival is Long Island’s first juried film festival exclusively for students. More recently, it has included submissions from high school students across the country and even some international students. Aspiring young filmmakers compete for a chance to win awards for themselves and technology equipment for their schools, and to showcase at the annual festival.

Awards are given in the following genres: comedy, documentary, narrative, experimental, animation and screenwriting. All entries must be digital, on DVD or viewable via the Web.

Students enter work ranging from entirely digital animations created on programs like Adobe After Effects and Maya to stop motion video. Regardless of the media, the consistent element among submissions is a penchant for storytelling and a lot of hard work. It took Sibley six months to produce his three-minute Goodbye Balloon film. Students often work on their projects throughout the school year and during the summer break.

The Strictly Students Film Festival is presented in cooperation with the Smithtown Central School District Industry Advisory Board (IAB). Established in 1977, the business-education partnership develops and implements educational programs for Smithtown students.

“This event gives students a venue to showcase their work and an opportunity to network with industry professionals, meet fellow students interested in filmmaking and learn about opportunities that are available in college and the film industry,” says festival director Tim Needles, media arts teacher at Smithtown High School East. “Each year we have seen more and more terrific films…and we are very excited to invite back previous winners and newcomers alike for the celebration.”

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