By T.T. Stern-Enzi

In terms of anniversaries, the traditional symbol for the fifth year is wood. But in cinematic framework, especially when celebrating the fifth anniversary of a film festival, you can’t go wrong with celluloid. Film is classic and, some might argue, worthy of a more aged celebration. But such thinking diminishes the impact and import of the fifth year in the life span of a festival. By now, organizers have emerged from the initial growing pains and concerns into a degree of relative stability. There is a name, a brand with recognition at stake and a community eager to show their support for the event and also for themselves because they have become invested partners in the enterprise.

However, the bottom line is that although every year is about film, this fifth time around the block the event is ready to walk the walk and talk the talk. Ushering in its fifth year, the 2013 Eichelberger FilmDayton Festival kicks off proudly with a new title sponsor and the sense that this year marks a maturation of the event, a willingness to take steps towards the next level. For instance, the general shorts program features submissions from around the world that have been pared down by a jury of volunteers into three category blocks. In previous years, this program operated through an invitation-only process. Such an evolutionary change speaks to the kind of organizational infrastructure and capacity that comes with longevity and a mindful planning.

The 21st Annual BIG LENS Film Festival sets the stage Aug. 22 with back-to-back screenings – 7:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. – at The Neon Movies. BIG LENS presents a series of film shorts from students in the award-winning Motion Pictures program at Wright State University. The festival provides a unique opportunity for regional audiences to get the first-look at films that bounce from here to Sundance and other major international festivals while collecting prizes like Student Academy Awards along the way. Yet, it is BIG LENS where these films and filmmakers get prepped for the next level with Q&A sessions in front of the local faithful.

Each year features advances in terms of diversity, heralding changes that will transform the industry. This year’s program includes four films directed by women. So often, media pundits proclaim one year or another a banner year for women – or other groups under-represented in the industry – due to a numeric blip in the annual statistics, but the real hope that comes from the BIG LENS breakdown is a foundational shift in representation signaling a more meaningful presence for women moving forward.

The festival’s feature docket wastes no time, offering further support for this ideal with “In A World…” an indie comedy from writer, director and star Lake Bell (“How to Make It In America”) about a vocal coach to the stars who dreams of hitting the big-time as a voiceover professional, much like her successful father (Fred Melemed), the undisputed king of the field. Bell has paid her dues – toiling in the television ranks on shows like “The Practice” and “Boston Legal” before chipping away in big screen rom-coms “Over Her Dead Body” and “What Happens in Vegas” – and with this debut feature, she’s cashing in a few chips to land solid support from friends like Jeff Garlin and Eva Longoria to help make a her own case as a multi-hyphenate player who is more than capable of handling the big leagues.

The event closes with “Big Words,” another debut feature, this time from writer-director Neil Drumming who sets his adult hip hop tale about a once-promising group now in their 30s caught up in the struggle of trying to re-enter the game while facing the usual challenges and disappointments of the collision between realities and dreams. In addition, “Big Words” has its narrative unfolding against the backdrop of Barack Obama’s historic 2008 election.

Talk about hope and change.

For the second year, FilmDayton honors talented Miami Valley residents who choose to offer their skills, creativity, innovation and support to the local community. This year’s honorees receiving FilmDayton Awards include Jud Yalkut (The Innovation Award), Andy Copp (The Filmmaker Award), and The Levin Family Foundation (The Key Award). Honors for Yalkut and Copp are being awarded posthumously.

Yalkut, a Dayton City Paper contributor, earned his distinction as an innovator thanks to a lifetime of efforts that began with his video and film work in the 1960s in New York, in particular his collaborations with Nam Jun Paik. Once Yalkut settled in the Dayton region in 1973, he continued to make his presence known on the academic scene, founding the film & video specialization in WSU’s Art Department before moving on to Sinclair Community College and Xavier University in Cincinnati.

In order to sustain an ongoing film festival, the focus, by necessity, must return to the mission of the sponsoring organization and FilmDayton’s goal of educating, advocating and celebrating the community through film highlights the efforts of filmmakers at every step along the narrative journey and across all related disciplines, but as this fifth anniversary program illustrates, it doesn’t stop here. There’s a long road ahead for this engaged film community.