"The Chocolate Soldier" is among this year's entries in the Copa Shorts Film Fest, which features free workshops with industry experts.

Copa Shorts Film Festival is in the final planning stages for its second annual event in February.[quote_box_right]IF YOU GO
What: Copa Shorts Film Festival
When: Feb. 16-18
Where: UltraStar Multi-ainment Center, 16000 N. Maricopa Road
How Much: General admission $12 per film block; students, seniors, military veterans $10; one-day pass (6 film blocks): $70; VIP All Access Pass: $140
Info: CopaShortsFilmFest.org[/quote_box_right]

All entries were rated on a scale of 1 to 10 by at least two of 18 judges empaneled by organizers. The short films rated 7-10 were placed in the festival. They have now been divided into two-hour film blocks.

All films must be no longer than 20 minutes. Festival Executive Director Shelley Gillespie said this year’s films are trending longer than the entries in the inaugural festival.

“Last year films were averaging, I would say, 10-12 minutes,” Gillespie said. “Now we have one that’s 15 minutes, one that’s 19 minutes and 50 seconds, one that’s 16 minutes, so we’re averaging 8-9 films in some of the categories per film block. Yet one of the very best films in the military-veteran categories is just five minutes.”

One of the special categories for films created by military veterans. The festival also includes Native American films, student films and college films.

Shelley and Roger Gillespie, the festival director, took a special trip to San Diego to drum more films veterans, and it paid off.

“We have very, very quality military-veteran films,” Gillespie said.

While the general admission to a film block is $12, for military veterans and senior it will be $10. However, someone wants to get as many veterans in as possible.

“This anonymous challenger has said, ‘I will give you $5 of the ticket price for every military veteran or the first 100 that show up.’ That’s a lot,” Shelley Gillespie said. “But I want to challenge somebody to give the other $5 so that they can actually get in free to see these movies.”

The student category is for filmmakers in junior high or high school. Gillespie said there has been a marked improvement in the quality of the student films, noting one even received an 8 rating.

“It’s showing that they learned,” Gillespie said. “Joe Szoltysik and Janell Hudson at the middle schools asked us to come in and talk about what reviewers look for in a film. We emphasized, ‘We’ve got to hear your sound.’ I was so thrilled to see that some were much more proficient than they were last year.”

After a complaint last year from parents of middle schoolers who stayed after the student-film screening to see shorts by other filmmakers and discovered harsh language and situations, the more “mature” films have been placed in a block of their own, the last film block on Saturday night.

The festival is open to all genres and this year landed animation, drama, documentary, sci-fi, horror and a few comedies. Set for the Feb. 16-18, the festival has tickets available for its film blocks and other activities on its website.

Copa Shorts Film Festival will again have free workshops. Matthew Earl Jones, the director of the Arizona Office of Film and Media, will present “Filming in Arizona: What Arizona Can Do for You.” Cinematographer Steve Wargo will present “Drones, Moviemaking and the FAA: Rules, Rules, Rules.” Stephen Wade Nebgen, an entertainment attorney, will discuss “Film Funding: Show Me the Money.”

Though the workshops are free of charge, attendees need to register in advance.

Films will be screened at UltraStar Multi-tainment Center. Workshops will be next door in the Elements Event Center.

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