One morning in March 2008, while showering, Martinus Geleynse ’07 got an idea. Though he thought it was a great idea, he didn’t dream that within three years it would draw thousands of visitors to Hamilton, Ont., pump hundreds of thousands of dollars into its economy and generate creativity beyond any dollar value. “
In the 1950s and ’60s, Hamilton was a booming steel town,” Geleynse said of his hometown. “Then the steel industry crumbled, suburban sprawl set in and the downtown bottomed out. When I moved back after graduation, things were starting to come back, but it seemed people separated their work from the rest of their lives. I wanted to say, ‘No, all of life should be creative and contribute to the community.’”
In the shower, Geleynse remembered several 24-hour film festivals he had entered while at Calvin. The kind of creativity and energy those festivals generated, he thought, could help revive Hamilton.
Two months later, Geleynse’s media services firm, MG International, on a budget of $200, sponsored the Hamilton 24-Hour Film Festival. Fourteen filmmaking teams entered, and 180 people came to watch.
This year at a May festival re-dubbed Hamilton24, 109 teams competed in four different events. Between 2,000 and 3,000 people packed presentation venues, standing after the seats filled. They watched not only films, but also fashion, dance and music performances, all created within 24 hours.
Not only do participating teams have to finish their pieces in 24 hours, they also have to use only materials the festival provides: a garbage bag of fabric for fashion designers, for example, a location, a prop and a line of dialogue for the filmmakers.
This model “levels the playing field,” according to Geleynse, “so the success of entrants is entirely dependent on their creative abilities. And when the playing field is leveled, there are big surprises. For example, in 2009 we had a team made up entirely of professional filmmakers, and they didn’t finish in 24 hours, while a team of high school students scored in the top 10 films.”
Judges well known in each field choose the festival’s winners. A bonus in the film category: Thanks to an agreement with a distribution company, all films entered in this year’s festival are eligible for worldwide distribution opportunities. And winners in each category receive prizes—a total value this year of over $30,000—provided by Hamilton24 sponsors.
“We’ve decided not to accept a single grant for this festival,” said Geleynse, “and in Canada we could get lots of them. We believe a careful business model can fund this. We want to say that creativity, innovation and the arts are a financial engine in this town. This year we invested $3,000 in the festival, and its economic impact on the downtown was close to half-a-million dollars.”
The success of Hamilton24 has brought Geleynse year-round invitations to speak—at schools, business forums and community groups.
“I tell them what I became convinced of while at Calvin—that we’re the agents of renewal and transformation. We don’t have to wait for the magical hand of some big corporation to come to Hamilton so we can grow. I say, ‘Take change, take creativity into your own hands. You can change the world, so get on it!’”