BAR HARBOR — Three years after graduating from Mount Desert Island High School, Emma Forthofer is an award-winning and internationally recognized filmmaker.
In her short film “A Fifth Season,” which has won Best Short Documentary from the Los Angeles Film Awards and is the winner of the 2020 Best Documentary for the School of Film and Television Awards from Loyola Marymount University, Forthofer features the band, Druckluft, playing at Germany’s Cologne Carnival.
An annual event that kicks off at 11:11 a.m. on Nov. 11 each year and marks the beginning of carnival season (the fifth season of the year), the Cologne Carnival is a time of extensive celebration.
“A Fifth Season” was created during a four-month intensive study at the Akademie für Internationale Bildung (AIB) in Bonn, Germany. Forthofer, and 21 other film majors from Loyola Marymount University, attended the program where the creation of a documentary is the end goal.
“I was the director, producer, camera crew and editor on “A Fifth Season,” along with one fellow film student friend who joined me on the shoot to record sound,” said Forthofer in an email to the Islander. “It was very much a guerrilla style of filmmaking, but I love this approach because it gave us a lot of flexibility to be close with the band and not distract too much from their intense day of performing in the kickoff to Carnival.”
While staying with her host family, Forthofer was introduced to Druckluft, which translates to ‘compressed air,’ through a performance at a local fair and was so intrigued that she contacted them to see if they would be willing to be her film subjects.
“Their performance absolutely captivated me,” Forthofer said about the band, which formed when its members were still in high school. “Their colorful suits and sparkly dresses, along with larger-than-life brass music and coordinated dancing, sucked me in.”
Being a music kid at MDIHS is what Forthofer said solidified her excitement and passion for making “A Fifth Season.”
“The exhilaration of performing in the mixed show choir every year showed me just how much it takes to be a performer and bring energy, passion and intensely rehearsed skill to the stage each time without fail,” she said, mentioning her respect for strong musicians after being in concert and pep bands with Michael Remy. “I never was one myself, but I certainly held deep awe for those who were, and every single musician in Druckluft is outstanding.
“They hold so much respect for one another, and when uniting together, they blow their audiences away with their flawless execution and overwhelming energy,” said Forthofer.
That energy is well captured in the short film, where the mainly brass band is traveling to perform, dancing around the stage and, as an aside, one member contemplates the future.
“I was just lucky that [the Cologne] Carnival happens to be celebrated during the exact week that my study abroad program wanted us to film our documentaries,” said Forthofer, who grew up in Southwest Harbor and now lives in Ellsworth. “Lucky that Druckluft was so willing and excited to have a 20-year-old film student follow them around with a camera. So many things came together to make this film possible and I feel so grateful to have had such a special opportunity that has since been so well received by both Druckluft’s community and my own community.”
Hoping that classes would move from online to back to in-person if she waited, Forthofer, who is majoring in film and television production and minoring in studio arts, is taking a gap semester this fall and continuing her fifth season of work with Friends of Acadia. It is likely classes will still be in an online format when she returns to California in the spring.
“Filmmaking wasn’t something I seriously considered as a possible career until I joined Jeff Zaman’s advisory group my junior year of high school at MDIHS,” said Forthofer. “The hope once I graduate is to be able to support myself working as a professional cinematographer (also known as a director of photography). Anytime I have a camera in my hands and am shooting, I feel fulfilled.”
This is not the first time Forthofer has been recognized for her filmmaking.
“I did make one film in high school at MDIHS back in 2017 called “Colors” under the tutelage of Jeff Zaman, which won the Golden Lighthouse Award for best short film at the Portland Youth Film Festival,” she said. “’A Fifth Season’ is the largest undertaking of a film that I directed myself. It’s also the first film that I submitted to festivals nationally. It means a lot to be recognized for your work, especially as the creative process can be a rocky and uncertain road at times.”
To view “A Fifth Season” in its entirety, visit youtube.com/watch?v=CCmpnGMImpI&feature=youtu.be.