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Memoir of a First Time Film Festival Volunteer

©2014 Gabriel Hudelson

As a fan of the now monthly Media Talk 101 podcast, I rejoiced when I heard about their Christian Worldview Film Festival. It conveniently sprung up in the same time and place as a certain well-loved but now-defunct film festival. They didn't take over, they merely stepped into the gap. I can't think of any other group that I'd rather have put on such a unique event. 

However, any first time event on this scale will always test the mettle of the organizers—learning opportunities galore. I knew that they'd need a lot of volunteers. So I cleared my schedule—easy to do for freelancers sometimes—checked my bank accounts, and volunteered to help a few days early. 

I originally planned to wait until after an uncle's visit down here in Florida, but when he suddenly canceled, I threw my clothes hamper into my trunk and hit the road. I had no idea what obstacles lay in my way, or what feats I would be called upon to perform. A friend and I prayed just before I set out, knowing that any long trip like this could be dangerous—perhaps my last. And I did face death along the way. 

First, I drove through an ice storm. I-10 closed at the Mississippi just before I got there. I found a McDonald's, logged into their wifi, and plotted a new course through Baton Rouge. I reached 190 before it closed. As I drove across, ice chunks fell onto the road from the steel girders above. Ice coated the bridge, frozen in smooth washes along the sides. I watched as the countryside froze over, frost growing perceptibly on everything. I faced death that day, and am grateful both to have driven out of that cold country... and to have driven through it. The ice reminded me that I'm merely mortal and I carried that sobriety with me down to San Antonio.

Rhett and I in the pre-festival HQ.

For the first week, I stayed with the Telfer family. They had quite a few guests from their former church in Illinois, and I enjoyed meeting them all. It's amazing how fast you can get to know people in a relatively short amount of time. Each meal acted as an oasis from the busyness in which the entire family and all the guests congregated. We teased each other, prayed over the festival, discussed the weather up north, shared lessons learned over our short lives, and had some amazing, freshly-ground coffee. One of the fellows brought down some amazing decaf varieties, so even I partook of the bean.

Other than eating and carrying on polite conversation, my main tasks that first week consisted of film wrangling, taking over the Twitter account, and creating the venue map. The digital files for about 10 films hadn't arrived yet—due to weather bogging down the mail or other stuff—but we needed them to have a film festival! I contacted each of the filmmakers and made sure they sent us a copy of their film either overnight or via an online sharing platform (Dropbox, Google Drive, etc.). Film wrangling involves me being as annoying as possible so the filmmakers will send in their work and be done with me. Surprisingly, I connected with a young filmmaker named Brett Varvel, the son of an editorial cartoonist that I visited when I was a teenager—a sort of hero of mine. It's great to hear that they are serving Jesus! I tried not to be so annoying to him. Actually, it was a lot of fun and I was able to connect with some old friends.

When I took over the Twitter account, a total of 4 tweets sat in it's little archive of tweets tweeted. I set out to rectify that right away. However, I'm used to tweeting my own personal thoughts—I've never done any corporate tweeting. I wanted to make sure that my tweets reflected Media Talk 101's mission and style. I also wanted to make sure I tweeted the correct information. I know I made some mistakes along the way, but I did my best! 

I love making maps, so I loved making the venue map. When I first saw the church's map, I didn't understand what was going on. So I drove down to the venue, found the front door, walked to the info desk, and talked with a worker there. From that brief experience, I changed the map to reflect how the Guild and the Festival would use the space. However, within 10 minutes of walking around after we gained access to the building the Monday night before the Guild started, I knew that the map had issues. But it was done. Should we be at this venue next year, the map shall be tweaked.

On Sunday I enjoyed the Telfer's church. Phillip pastors with Richard "Little Bear" Wheeler, Al Mendenhall, and another guy who leads worship. I go to a very conservative Reformed Baptist church (KJV only, old hymns, women wearing skirts), and it most definitely was not that, but it was good. I worshipped and sought the Lord with my fellow believers, the body of Christ. At the end of the service, Rich Swingle presented a drama on the ministry of Eric Liddel from the perspective of a Chinese student who hated him. Rich worked hard that Sunday! I didn't see a dry eye at the end of his drama. Later, we all regrouped at the Telfers, enjoyed a quiet evening, held a little prayer time, and held our breaths....


As we entered the venue on Monday evening, we all had adrenaline pumping through our systems. A friend likened it to feeling a wave forming and getting ready to ride that wave. You could taste that thrill like... warm corn chips fresh off the presses. (Not having experience surfing... I do have experience eating fresh potato chips at a Lay's chip factory. It may not be as exciting to y'all, but believe me, my teenage self thought it sheer glory.) Honestly, I did feel an impending doom—I was in over my head. If Phillip doubted, however, I never saw it. Kathleen Fowl (a fellow relocated-IAHE-convention-veteran!), did not seem fazed at all. Juan Rivera and Andrew Koch worked miracles. And Rhett—I really enjoyed getting to know him better and working alongside him.

During this week my responsibilities shifted. I retained the helm at Twitter, and tried to tweet/favorite/retweet whenever I had the chance, but now I was also in charge of transportation for the speakers (the man in charge of that suddenly needed to go out of state), and I hosted a workshop room and the Loft during the film festival. I also created slides for screens that were out in the halls, but it was Thursday or Friday before I finished those, and I don't think anyone noticed! But that's ok.

Transportation turned into a lot of work. We had a couple of folks who needed rides from the airport that required me to hop in the car and run to the airport real quick. I got lost in San Antonio with John Fornof and his nephew. Thankfully he had GPS! By the time I picked up Rich Christiano, I looked like I kinda knew what I was doing. By the time everyone left, I had a calendar and had doublechecked everything, and I think they all made their flights. At least... I haven't heard any different!

Daniel Knudsen in the Loft.  I didn't host this lecture, but I'm sure it was great!
©2014 Samuel Crowe

I hosted the Planning room for the Guild and the Loft for the Festival. I merely needed to greet everyone, tell them to turn their cellphones off or if they must take a call to take it in the hall, and to open in prayer. After that, I tried to take my advice! I think I was the only person who regularly took calls out in the hall. We had a series of little emergencies that began tapering off midmorning on Wednesday. I'm now working my way through the audio files—getting to experience the festival as everyone else did! I could only sit through Nathan Webster's entertaining and enlightening talk—totally worth it. I missed all of the General Sessions, so I'm catching up on those. I've finally gotten caught up on what I missed from Paul Hastings lecture—he also kindly emailed me his notes. 

When we switched from the Guild format to watching films for the Festival, I moved to the Loft and began hosting for films instead of speakers. The emergencies had mostly dissipated, but I had enough on my plate that I didn't get to see an entire film... 

Except for Wednesday night when I invited myself to see the rough cut of Paul Munger's Princess Cut. He has a great film there. Now, it's a romance, so guys, you've been forewarned, but it's a good romance. Paul did a great job at it. I can see the finished product shining through beautifully. I hope it does well at the festival next year! I also enjoyed the exquisite stuffed Texas quail. 

I was prepared to wear multiple hats for the award ceremony, but all I had to do is get the ball rolling on award winner photos and free popcorn for the masses and other people took care of all that stuff. For the award ceremony, I just tweeted the results.

After the ceremony, that's when the excitement started. We had to be out of the building by a certain time, so we bribed the masses with a meet-and-greet the award winners in the courtyard outside and free popcorn. Then we cleaned up! After we finished clearing everything out, I hung out with a couple friends, and then headed back to my host family...

©2014 Ivy Schexsnayder

It's been a few weeks since the awards. I feel like something very special has happened that may never happen again, though I wish it would. I plan to help recreate this special event next year, but it can't truly be recreated: it will go on, but it will never by brand new like this. And I saw it from behind the scenes—a rare and priceless privilege.

Other than a feeling, what have I taken away from this experience?

First things first... I now have refillable ink cartridges for my printer. Ask Rhett for more details. (Apparently Media Talk 101 saves thousands of dollars every year, just by refilling ink cartridges instead of buying new replacements.)

Secondly, I have some wonderful new friendships. It's amazing how fast you can get to know someone when you are battling and worshipping with them. Singing "Bless the Lord, oh my soul" with Phillip and Rhett in HQ on the drizzly Saturday morning, knowing that we needed everyone out of the building immediately after the awards that night, still echoes deep in my mind.

Gabriel Hudelson and I discussing faith and an upcoming album cover.
Third, I loved talking about spiritual things with people. Talking with a younger artist, Samuel Rivera, about art inevitably led to talking about our great Creator—the One in whom innovation truly begins and ends. Rich Christiano challenged me to serve Jesus with all of my heart. I talked about protecting your soul and providing for your family with Nathan Ashton, about the frailty and preciousness of our local churches with Grace Pennington, about iconclasm and aesthetics with Monica Tull, about eschatology and imaging God with Gabriel Huddelson, and about a whole bunch of stuff with Rhett and Phillip.

Fourth,watching Phillip care for and carve out time for his kids was worth the trip. I've wondered how to manage that as a freelancer, and I really enjoyed seeing it in practice. 

Fifth, ministry is precious. I'm glad I went into the week reminded of my mortality. Dying daily is hard to do, and I failed at it quite a few times over those couple weeks. I got prideful, thoughtless, lazy, sported bad attitudes, and kept having to die to all that. On the trip out to the Festival, I may have almost met my end, but when I came to the end of myself, I needed to actively sacrifice myself and my desires. It's very rewarding to expend myself for others, in the name of Christ. May He increase, and may I decrease.

A lot of people have thanked me, as if I had done something great. I'm aware that I was helpful, but I'm also aware that others could have easily filled my role. I'm also haunted by the idea that I did not go on this trip accidentally, that it was prepared for me—and that's a humbling thought. I wonder how I did in comparison with the eternal expectations on my trip. But through all of that, I feel a deep sense of gratitude to God who led me through those intense two weeks. I found them filled with hard work, good friends, and the wonder of following a kind Lord.


  1. Great stuff Matthew! It was an honor getting to meet you this year and hopefully God will allow us to come together again next year!


    1. Paul, the honor was mine. I'm looking forward to seeing what God does in our lives over this next year. See you later, LW.