Highland Square Film Festival Finds Inspiration in Akron

Filmmakers use the city to tell their stories

by Erik Svensson


The first-ever Highland Square Film Festival took place Saturday, Sept. 29 in the Highland Theatre. The films in the festival were all five minutes or less in length, and all of them told stories that revolved around Akron.

The films told a wide range of stories, including a music video about a man with an alien head (“Yesterday”), a short reflective piece on how Akron shaped its narrator (“Hello Akron, Old Friend”) and a comedy about how to get to Luigi’s (“Which Way is Luigi’s”). Every film had a unique perspective through which the audience could view Akron, ranging from melancholy to celebratory.

The festival began with a speech from Katie Carver Reed, Highland Square Neighborhood Association’s President. Carver Reed spoke about the aim of the festival, explaining that film isn’t as celebrated as it ought to be in the city but that new technology makes it easier for everyone to create works.

“I had an idea about taking your phone and making a story out of it,” said Carver Reed at the event. “It’s about engaging the community to tell our stories.”

Carver Reed asked for applause for the team that organized the event, which was overseen by Marissa McClellan, the project manager; and Dave Ignizio, owner of Square Records.

Films were submitted by both amateurs and professionals, but all of them were based in Akron. Seventeen films were shown as official entries in the festival, and three non-competition films were featured after the official entries were shown. Two of the films, “Home” and “Time To Quit,” are available to view on YouTube.

Comedian Rhea Butcher, an Akron native who hosted the event, enjoyed that each film offered a different perspective on the city. “You can feel the love for the city in all the films,” Butcher told the audience.

The film “Hello Akron, Old Friend” by Jonathan Chiarle won the festival, as voted by the judges, and received a $1,000 prize. “Hello Akron, Old Friend” also won the audience vote. Chiarle created a narrated short film about growing up in Akron, the way certain places leave marks on the people who live there, and some of the important events and people that connect him to the city. For Chiarle, seeing his first piece of media that depicted gay people was one such memorable event. It was an introspective film that received a loud round of applause when it ended.

“On the Home Front” by Leah Holden, a film about Akron Red Cross workers, won the festival’s Bechdel Prize. The $100 award was presented on behalf of Akron’s upcoming Bechdel Fest, scheduled for May 2019, to the best film to pass the Bechdel Test. (The Bechdel Test is simple: Does a film have two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man?)

Before the films were shown, a panel discussed the increased accessibility of filmmaking technology, advice for young and new filmmakers and how cities like Akron inspire people. Sound editor and composer Scott Hallgren, filmmaker and writer Miki Blak, videographer and photographer Connie Collins, and Rob Lucas, who co-founded the Akron Film Festival which later evolved into the Nightlight Cinema, spoke and answered questions about filmmaking, moderated by Butcher.

“There are so many Akrons throughout the United States,” said Butcher. “The city is trying to figure out what it is. The city itself and the people within it are all on a journey to understanding ourselves and our place – and that is possibly the best place to be to create anything.”

The event was organized by Highland Square Neighborhood Association, which received a Knight Arts Challenge grant to fund the project.


Erik is an intern at The Devil Strip and a senior journalism major at Kent State.