Little did Bishop Dwenger High School sophomore Rachel Gruss realize when she was in first grade and a brand-new member of Windsong Pictures that she would become proficient in not just one field but many during her 10 years with the company.
“Rachel is a chief editor, cinematographer, actor, director, producer and writer — she can do it all,” said Michael Floyd, Windsong's director, executive producer and founder.
This year marks the 14th annual International Windsong Film Festival, which runs from Thursday through Sunday at IPFW. It is co-sponsored by Windsong Pictures and the IPFW Film Festival Club. An audition for dancers and actors will also be held March 16 and 17.
Thursday, independent films will be shown on International Night, which features films from Japan, India, England and the United States. There are no local films that evening.
Feature films include “Calliope,” which was shot in Fort Wayne, Peru, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and several countries depicts circus life in the 1870s, with a cast of more than 400 people.
“Alaskan Gold Fever,” shot in Alaska and northern Michigan, and tells the tale of a group of college students led by two college professors on a summer trip to Alaska. Wild Bill, a nutty old prospector saves the group from grizzly bear attacks and wolves.But suspense builds as two modern-day pirates kidnap Tana, a young Athabascan Native woman, who befriends the students. The students then find themselves in a manhunt to save Tana.
“Spreading Wings” relates the story of Amelia Earhart, who flew into Smith Field in Fort Wayne many times when she worked at Purdue University. The film also features aviator Margaret Ringenberg, World War II Army Air Corps photographer Bill Jones, and aviator Harry Levell.
The film was shot in Fort Wayne and Huntington with the help of many local aviators, including Chapter 2 of the Young Eagles out of Smith Field, Floyd said.
Also, shown will be new “2013 Windsong Shorts” — short films including “Mrs. Claus is Missing,” “Wedding Coordinators” and “The Nasty Neighbor.”
The number of volunteers for Windsong productions varies from year to year, said Floyd, adding about 500 were used in last year's films.
“We have many talented local volunteers with us, including Kayla Canales, a home-schooled sophomore who has been with us two years and is a terrific team player, artist, actor and production assistant,” Floyd said. “She is also a key member of the Windsong Pictures Color Guard team for parades and helps construct Windsong floats for parades.
Katheryne Schauer, a home-schooled junior, is another actor-producer in her third year, Floyd said. Schauer has been a big help in parades with the Color Guard, and, along with the other girls, the Windsong Pictures food drive for the Christmas Food Box Program.
“Amy McKee is the most outstanding brainstormer we have ever had involved with Windsong Pictures,” Floyd said. “She designs programs, posters, DVD labels and draws portraits that we may need for movie scenes. She's a cinematographer, photographer, editor, writer, actress, director and producer, and also is a terrific mentor.”
McKee volunteers her time to help film weddings, bar mitzvahs and other commercial projects to raise money to fund Windsong Pictures, a nonprofit organization, and directly support the student learning opportunities it provides, Floyd said. “She worked 20- to 22-hour days with us in Alaska — she is awesome!,” he added.
The Windsong Pictures group travels all over the United States for different scenes for their movies, but one of their favorite spots is Mackinaw, Mich. According to Gruss, if it is still light out when the cast is done filming there, they swim, kayak or build sand castles.
“Michael is there filming everyone so that we have b-roll for our film,” Gruss said. “He puts Windsong above himself and is always making sure we did everything we need to, even when everyone else is exhausted.”
Canales echoed Gruss' sentiments:
“When we got on the road to Michigan to shoot most of our film, I thought, 'Finally, I get to do some real on-location filming. This is awesome!' It was so much fun,” Canales said.
The many different characters she has been able to play and working with the people involved make Schauer's days with the group enjoyable, she said.
“Michael has taught me many technical skills, including the concept of 'Hurry up and wait,' because, on location, not everything goes as planned,” said McKee, Windsong Pictures' artistic director, who describes traveling as the best part of working with the Windsong family.
“During these trips, you get to know everyone, including the tech crew, the actors and the parents who help out any way they can, which creates a great bonding experience,” she added.
Windsong Pictures also has collected more than 1 million food items for the hungry over the last four decades, including for Miss Virginia's Mission House, St. Mary's Soup Kitchen, Ave Maria House, Vincent Village, Habitat for Humanity and Cancer Services of Northeast Indiana, it says on the program's website, www.windsongpictures.com.
Though their budget is limited, their imagination is not, and “the hard work of our Windsong family is unsurpassed,” said Floyd.
Obviously, Floyd loves what he does, and who he does it with.
“The goal of Windsong Pictures has always been 'To reach out, touch others and make a difference,' and that sums everything up,” he said.