Jim Meta is a self-described "crier."

The Hyatts Middle School technology teacher is passionate about his work, "so much so that it bugs everyone around me," and there's nothing more tear-jerking for him than the school year's big finale: the Hyatts Film Festival.

Now in its 10th year, the festival showcases student-produced films by middle school students, complete with prizes and a red-carpet premiere that was held May 20 in the AMC LennoxTown Center 24 theater in Columbus.

"We culminate our school year with this, I think," Meta said.

Each year, Meta unveils the "theme poster" in January, meant to serve as a loose guide to the direction students' films will take. This year's theme was "A Look Back: Tell a Story from the Past."

The contest is open to anyone in the school, but those who are in Meta's Eagle News class make up the majority of entries because they're familiar with him and making short films.

Students can either make a movie by themselves or work in teams of up to four.

The projects are due in April, when Meta sends them to friends, co-workers and even staff at other districts. Those "judges" choose their favorites among seven categories: best picture, best independent film, editing, cinematography, sound, narration and teaching and learning.

Winners of best picture and best independent film -- completed entirely by one student -- receive the grand-prize camera package, while other winners earn gift cards, portable speakers and other items.

Although those prizes aren't the only reason students participate, they serve as solid motivation.

"I really want the camera," eighth-grader Camryn Thompson said with a smile.

The films are about 2 minutes long and cover a variety of themes and topics. This year alone, students submitted movies that explore ideas ranging from cancer and war to Claymation and fun memories.

Some, like Camryn's, tackle serious topics.

Her film, "What Hunter Taught Me," centers on her former neighbor and fellow Olentangy student Hunter McClelland, who was killed in a 2017 car crash.

Others, like Lily Weis' film, "Blast from the Past," are more lighthearted. In that film, Lily and her partner travel through time to visit other eras.

"I just thought it would be fun to see on the big screen," she said.

Most of the films are shot on students' smartphones, though the class also has handheld video cameras available. This year, 19 films were submitted, which is slightly down from last year's tally.

At the event itself, Meta aims to create a memorable night for his students.

The evening begins with a red-carpet runway outside the Lennox, where kids dress up to look the part. He said it becomes a de facto "formal" for many eighth-graders.

In the theater, the event is hosted by alumni. Students help raise funds for the event by selling raffle tickets and shooting 30-second commercials for local businesses to run between the films.

"The goal is to raise some money," Meta said, "because I start with zero budget."

In addition to the movies, Meta also plays the Eagle News students' annual "big project": a music video shot near the end of the year.

The night is shared among classmates, friends and families and Meta's students said they looked forward to the event all semester long.

"I think it's fun letting other people see what your life is like," Camryn said.

Each year, when he sees his students' films on the big screen, Meta said he can't help but to get emotional.

"It hits me so hard," he said, "but if I'm not doing that, I need another job."

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