Infusing the Westport Youth Film Festival with international flair, seven foreign entries are among the 50 short films that will light up the screens at Fairfield's Community Theatre next weekend.

The eighth annual festival will take over the downtown Fairfield movie house on May 14 from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. None of the filmmakers is over 18.

Joining about a half-dozen Fairfield County filmmakers on the bill are domestic entries from as far away as California, plus young movie makers from Europe and the Middle East.

In addition to daylong screenings, the festival also will feature music and panel discussions with industry professionals, including Golden Globe-nominated actress Cynthia Gibb, a Westport native.

The 50 films were whittled down from about 200 entries representing all 50 states. Sixteen were made by Connecticut youths.

The annual festival was founded by three teenagers searching for a professional platform for their films. And the bar has continually been raised since 2003, organizers said.

"The films this year are just extraordinarily better -- more polished and professional -- than they've ever been," said Kate Lupo, festival program director. "With our celebrity judges and panel of experts, this is, overall, the most ambitious event WYFF has sponsored to date."

More Information

FILM FEST AT A GLANCE What: 50 short films made by youths 18 and under Where: Community Theatre, 1424 Post Road, Fairfield When: Saturday, May 14, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Watch previews: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yj2ct6gQ_og&feature=player_embedded Tickets/schedule: www.wyff.net, click on "Festival 2011"

The festival's board was surprised this winter when it received an entry from Egypt, just as that country was in the throes of major political upheaval, said Matt Kalmans, the festival director.

"While the whole world around them is blowing up, these kids are still making movies," said Kalmans, a senior at Weston High School.

Although the Egyptian entry is not among the 50 selected for screening, there are films from Denmark, Israel, Norway and Switzerland. Among them is a music video featuring a hit Norwegian pop song and an Israeli drama about memory. Both have English subtitles.

The films cover nine categories and the themes range from comedy to social commentary.

Lupo's favorite film --"Ted A Ted" -- is a comedic take on the ways a middle-school boy could ask a girl out on a date.

"I think it's one of the best films in the comedy category," she said. The plot focuses on dramatic and creative ways that a short, young man could get a tall, attractive and more mature girl to notice him. It was made by a 12-year-old California boy, the festival's youngest filmmaker.

Kalmans was impressed by a documentary that describes the plight of a large population of homeless youth in Salt Lake City. Another documentary he liked focused on how "beat poetry" could be therapeutic for recovering teenage addicts.

"Surprisingly, lots of kids are interested in filming documentaries," he said.

Some festival alumni have made it big professionally.

Jake Emanuel of Weston, whose film won a festival award a few years ago, recently finished writing the script for "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" for Paramount Pictures.

"They hired him for a second film because they liked the work that he did," Kalmans said of Emanuel, who studied screenwriting at Emerson College in Boston.

Lindsay Rothenberg of Weston went on to work as an assistant to legendary director Martin Scorsese, Kalmans said.

All three festival founders -- David Burstein, Chris Casey and Emma Wiseman -- now work professionally in the film industry.

Burstein won a $10,000 DoSomething Award for a documentary he produced called "18 in 2008." Burstein traveled throughout the United States during the summer before the 2008 presidential election and registered young people to vote.

Five Fairfield County high schools are represented on the festival's board.

The festival begins to reach out to young filmmakers in August -- nine months before the hoopla and public screenings. Using social media sites -- Facebook, Twitter, blogs --and networking with their peers in the U.S. and abroad, festival organizers host fundraising events and generate a buzz for the event.

Many of the teens nationally and internationally are part of film programs at their high schools, Lupo said. Filmmakers from the private Harvard-Westlake School in California are planning to fly in for the festival.

Staples High School students Alanna Morton and Matt Lindahl have films that will be shown. There also are three films by students from Weston.

Awards will be presented in nine categories. Each winner receives $250 from the Broadcast Film Critics Association and a crystal award donated by Tiffany and Co. of Westport.

The Sunrise Rotary Club of Westport provides a $500 award for the best film in the social commentary category.

Tickets for students begin at $10. VIP packages for students and adults also are available.

"A lot of people think that this is an event that only film buffs or teens would enjoy, but I would encourage everyone to check it out," Kalmans said.

For more information, visit

www.wyff.net.