When the Lexington Film League announced a contest last September for short videos about "do-ers" in Kentucky, organizers didn't know what to expect.
Kiley Lane and several other filmmakers had formed the all-volunteer league last year to promote and showcase what has become an increasingly popular form of storytelling and self-expression.
Almost anyone these days can make a short video and post it online. The league promotes film arts through classes at the Carnegie Center, with lectures at the Lexington Art League and through its Web site: www.lexingtonfilmleague.org.
While discussing a film project with a friend at a Lexington non-profit group, Lane said, "We thought it would be great if we had a contest that got people who are doing these things in the community involved with filmmakers. It could show off both what the filmmaker and the organization can do."
So the league sent out e-mail, posted information on its Web site and even called non-profit organizations to suggest that a staffer or volunteer might have the video skills to tell their story.
Then contest organizers waited. And waited.
As the deadline approached, only two or three entries had been posted to the league's YouTube channel. Then, suddenly, entries began flooding in. They came from experienced filmmakers, photojournalists, lawyers and even high school students.
"It was really exciting," Lane said. "The number that came in really surprised us, and thrilled us."
Twenty-two videos are vying for two awards, which will be announced at a free public event beginning at 6 p.m. Feb. 26 at Natasha's Bistro on Esplanade Avenue, where the top 10 videos will be screened.
The best video award, selected by the league's judges, comes with a $400 prize, to be split between the filmmaker and a non-profit organization of his or her choice. The prize money comes from the Lexington-based clothing company Make Yourself Necessary, which helps charities raise money.
Judging criteria include storytelling, production quality, use of images and interviews, editing and overall artistic impression, Lane said.
Then there is the people's choice award, with a prize that has yet to be determined. Online viewers can see the 22 entries at the league's YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/user/lexfilmleague, and e-mail their votes to email@example.com.
Several organizations have mobilized supporters for "people's choice" votes, Lane said. One video has more than 150 votes. You can vote only once.
What kind of videos was the league looking for?
Lane said organizers purposely left contest criteria vague. Should film subjects be people or organizations doing "good" in their communities? "Good is such a relative term," she said. "In the end, we decided we wanted to be open-ended. We wanted different people's takes on what a do-er is."
Many of the videos profile non-profit organizations, including Central Kentucky Radio Eye, which records periodicals for the blind; the Backside Learning Center in Louisville, which teaches immigrant horse workers English and computer skills; the Bluegrass Miracle League, which organizes baseball games for handicapped children; and Wholesome Table, which teaches immigrants to prepare locally available foods.
Angela Shoemaker used audio interviews and black-and-white photographs to tell about a family helped by Louisville's Volunteers of America Family Shelter. Jennifer Miller's video profiled Lexington's zany March Madness Marching Band.
And there are several individual profiles: a photographer who produced a popular calendar of female mechanics while riding her motorcycle across the country; a woman who spent 21 days living in a window at the 21C Museum Hotel in Louisville; and a man who reads aloud in downtown Lexington parks.
At the Feb. 26 event, the league will announce details of its next video contest. Lane wouldn't divulge the subject, but she said it would involve music and culminate in an event at Buster's Billiards & Backroom in May. The winning video, she said, would be shown at the Louisville Film Society's annual Flyover Film Festival in June.
The league plans to repeat this contest next year in the hope of getting entries from beyond Lexington and Louisville, Lane said. She thinks it's fertile territory.
"Most people have their day jobs but they're also interested in something else," she said.
"Organizations and people across the state are doing some amazing things in their communities, and they are passionate about community support. You see that through the videos."