Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 13, Derek Freese, a Central High School graduate who grew up in Overbrook, was forced to deal with health difficulties for much of his life. But his health never hindered his interest in filmmaking, a passion that started in childhood.
"He developed an interest in film very early in life - at age 4 or 5," said Derek's father, David Freese. "He was about 8 or 9 when he decided that he wanted to be a filmmaker."
Constantly cultivating his interest in movies ("he even owned about 50 soundtrack CDs" said his father), Freese eventually graduated from Temple University's film program in 1995. Upon graduation, Freese moved to Hollywood, but his health quickly deteriorated, and just two days after his arrival, he died. He was only 22.
Freese's parents wanted to honor the life and dreams of their son, as well as lend a hand to ambitious young filmmakers like him. In 1997, they founded the Derek Freese Memorial Film Festival, a competition for high-school students, hosted by the Film and Media Arts Department of Temple University.
"They understood the hard work and struggles of being a [young] filmmaker," said festival co-director and Temple Film and Media Arts graduate student Tracy Pereira.
Submission of work to the festival is free, and participating students may submit their work in five categories - documentary, narrative, animation, experimental and music video.
The festival organizes free public screenings of the submitted films. This year they'll be shown on Saturday at Temple's Annenberg Hall.
Over the years, the festival has grown significantly. Where initially it drew regional submissions, the competition now attracts young filmmakers from as far away as Arizona, Washington and California, recruiting submissions from more than 450 high schools nationwide. This year's competition boasts nearly 100 entries.
Pereira hopes that this general expansion will provide the financial growth to take the festival in new directions. "As [the festival] grows in numbers and sponsorships, we want to award individual categories," Pereira said, noting that the competition recently added the Beatrice Deglin-Leder Award for screenwriting to its list of honors.
But one thing that won't change is the age focus of the festival. The Freese Foundation's objective has remained unwavering for the festival's 12 year history: to help out young filmmakers like Derek. *
Derek Freese Film Festival, Annenberg Hall, 2020 N. 13th St., 1-5 p.m. Saturday, free. Info: www.temple.edu/FMA/FREESE.