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Students and Professors submit films to festivals

Amanda Gray | Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Though South Bend may not be the first place that comes to mind when one thinks of film production, Notre Dame is staking its claim as a hotbed for cinematic talent.

In the past year, the Film, Television and Theatre (FTT) Department saw a successful turnout on the film festival circuit for students, professors and alumni, department chair Don Crafton said.

One film from professor Ted Mandell’s “Documentary Video Production” course took home numerous accolades over the past few months, according to a press release from the department.

“Picking Up America,” by seniors Michael Burke and Marie Wicht, focuses on four activists who clean up trash from coast to coast. The documentary was accepted by the Reality Bytes Independent Student Film Festival held at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill. the first week of April. It also won the Social Change Award from the 10th Annual Ivy Film Festival held at Brown University in Providence, R.I. at the end of the month.

Wicht said the duo knew they produced a good film but were not sure how it would fare in competition.

“We didn’t realize how much success it could or would have until we won the Social Change Award,” she said. “I knew what we had was good. We’ve been on a roll since.”

Ten student films were shown at various festivals around the nation, three of which came from Mandell’s class.

Mandell said the films from his class were technically superior and covered intriguing subjects.

“They’re intriguing subjects,” he said. “They all have a human message.”

Burke said audience feedback was crucial to the development of the documentary.

“Anytime someone else watches your film, it’s worthwhile,” he said. “Even if it’s just one person watching. Part of the process is seeing what works and what doesn’t.”

Mandell said support from the Institute for Scholarship and the Liberal Arts’ Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program was crucial to all of the films’ development.

“These funds allow students to blossom and make films interesting not only to Notre Dame, but national ones, as well,” he said.

Student films weren’t the only Notre Dame affiliated productions to earn accolades. Two films by Notre Dame professors were distinguished at festivals as well.

“Strong Bodies Fight,” by Professor William Donaruma and Mark Weber, a 2009 Notre Dame graduate, won Finalist, Best Documentary and Audience Choice awards at the John Paul II International Film Festival in Miami, Fla., in Feburary.

Mandell’s own film called “Inside The Legends,” which documents the 2009 Japan Bowl, screened at the Los Angeles All Sports Film Festival in July.

Mandell said he appreciates that he got the chance to film such an important event in Notre Dame history.

“I was really fortunate to be asked to follow the alumni team,” he said. “It turned into the last game Lou Holtz ever coached. I think that film is watching Holtz behind the scenes.”

Crafton said members of the department have routinely entered festivals for around three years, but the department recently began actively encouraging entrances.

“You just have to find the right festival,” Crafton said. “The films [that were accepted to festivals] I think are very high quality and this is just indicative of our peers seeing that.”