Q&A: Ohio Shorts juror Prentiss Haney

Jennifer Lange, Film/Video Studio Curator

Apr 13, 2021

Prentiss Haney

The juror for the 25th anniversary edition of Ohio Shorts is a nationally recognized community organizer and co-executive director of the Cincinnati-based Ohio Organizing Collaborative, as well as an alum of the annual showcase for filmmakers from around the state. Before the program he curated debuts Thursday at South Drive-In and streams April 17–May 1, Prentiss Haney spoke with Film/Video Studio Curator and Ohio Shorts co-organizer Jennifer Lange about the over 100 films he watched and his perspective on the event from both sides of the process.

Thanks for taking the time to talk!  First, I just want to acknowledge, having been a juror myself in past years, that watching 120-plus videos is a lot of work! How did you approach the process of going through such a large number of submissions with such a variety of styles and subject matter?

It was challenging! My approach was to identify themes, decide on those themes, then select the films. During the first round, I watched the films just to capture themes and took copious notes on the variety of styles. I knew I wanted a diversity of filmmaking styles, from animations to traditional narratives and everything in between. After the first round, I made a broad “yes” group, narrowed my themes and started my second and third viewings. My original program was nearly 3 hours long until I honed in our 20 films for the year 2020.

It was a daunting process but the work was so moving and strong that it was an honor just to view all the work. 

As you were finishing up your final list, we spoke about the themes that were emerging for you and your curatorial vision for the program. It’s been a traumatic year in so many ways, socially, politically, personally, and professionally. I was a little surprised that we received the number of submissions that we did, to be totally honest!!  Can you talk about the themes you saw emerging from the work and the threads that connected them together as a program?

My curatorial vision was to find work that reflects the times. 2020 was a challenging year with the ongoing pandemic, the racial uprising surrounding the murder of George Floyd, and the election. Communities across Ohio experienced isolation, pain, and anger. I felt that deeply as I viewed the work. There were very human stories like battling with addiction and estranged relationships. And then there was resilience displayed everywhere in the submissions. Filmmakers created work that showed how we cared for one another, fought for racial justice, and connected with community. In selecting the final program, I focused on themes of isolation, connection, and uprising.  

These themes and this program tell a story of Ohio’s resilience. No matter what you look like, where you live, or how much you earn, Ohioans have been pulling together and going all in for our families and our State. These filmmakers are telling those stories.

"These themes and this program tell a story of Ohio’s resilience. No matter what you look like, where you live, or how much you earn, Ohioans have been pulling together and going all in for our families and our State. These filmmakers are telling those stories."

One small reason I was especially excited for you to curate this year’s program is that you are an alum of Ohio Shorts! In 2009, as a student at Stivers School for the Arts in Dayton, you made Life Stepped In and screened it as part of the then Youth Division program. Can you talk a bit what it was like to show your work back then and what’s it’s like to come back and curate the whole program?

I was completely amazed. I had never been in a film festival before so it was all new to me. When I arrived at the Wex on the day of the screening in 2009, I felt like I was finally at home with all those filmmakers.  It was the first time I saw my work celebrated publicly and it gave me the fire to continue to create. 

Now, 12 years later, I bring that same jubilant energy and sense of community and belonging I felt when I was selected to be a part of the Ohio Shorts. I thought to myself what each artist would feel when they found out their work was selected. It’s important to be celebrated, understood and visible. That recognition is a euphoric feeling for so many artists. 

Prentiss Haney, Life Stepped In (2009)


Yours was a particularly memorable entry, too, in part because my colleague, Jean Pitman, whose work with youth I so admire, really made an extra special effort to make sure that your submission made it into the mix. I think the story involved some tech trouble? It’s something so many artists and filmmakers will be able to commiserate with!

Yes, tech trouble is real. But what I love about artists is that even if you don't have the means to make highly produced work, a good story is a good story. I would encourage anyone to focus on making a good compelling story first and worry about the tech later. 

There are always one or two works that really surprise me with their storytelling or aesthetic qualities or their ability to make me laugh out loud (or cry). Did anything surprise you while going through the entries?

Slushie! It was so funny. I thought telling a story about a Christian pop band in the Midwest was just so refreshing. I laughed the entire time. There is so much great work in this show but that film makes me laugh every single time. 

Do you have any words of wisdom for the artists who are thinking about submitting in the future?

Submit! Ohio Shorts is a film festival for artists pushing outside of their comfort zone and making culturally important work. So many artists are taking risks in this show and I want you to see that those risks are worth it. When I saw my work in 2009, it gave me the creative audacity to keep going. 

Top of page: Prentiss Haney, photo: Kaliah Ware

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