The Notre Dame Student Film Festival impressively showcased the talents of more than 20 students from Notre Dame’s Film, Television and Theater department. This year’s festival included 13 diverse films, creating a refreshing mix of genres and styles from start to finish. The three biographical documentaries all provided superb, emotionally charged glimpses into a motley collection of human beings. Dramas like “As of Now” showcased acting fine enough for Hollywood films while the awesome production value of “Hive” was reminiscent of “Black Mirror.” Well-placed comedic shorts like “Smoke Break,” “Kittens” and “Freaky Fast” provided laughs in a two-hour festival that engaged with both heady and emotional topics.
Senior Audrey Grewe’s documentary “Sam” was the Audience Choice Award winner for good reason. “Sam” tells the story of Audrey’s younger brother, Notre Dame freshman Sam Grewe. Sam shined on whatever sports field he graced as a child and didn’t let a cancer diagnosis keep him out of athletics for long. The documentary details Sam’s partial leg amputation and eventual rise to Paralympian success while featuring hilarious narration from his older sister. “Sam’s” place at the Notre Dame Film Festival seems like fate. Sam Grewe’s story is intimately tied to Notre Dame, as he was a constant companion to the Fighting Irish Football team during their historic 2012 season. The humorous repartee between the siblings combined with Sam’s natural charisma made “Sam” both inspirational and personally engaging.
“Breaking The Cycle”
Graduate student Indi Jackson and Vincent Augusto’s documentary “Breaking The Cycle” followed student filmmaker and Notre Dame track and field shot putter Indi Jackson back to her hometown of Detroit. In the documentary, Indi asks her mother about her experiences as a lesbian African-American single mother raising her biological daughter. She gained even greater perspective by interviewing her mother’s father. Indi’s interviews of her mother and grandfather paint a vivid picture of the African American experience over the past several decades. In the documentary’s most moving moment, Indi expresses her own surprise from behind the camera, questioning why she has never before heard her mother’s deepest thoughts on her life. Indi’s mother, whose comfortable charm in front of the camera was truly impressive, reveals that not sharing some things was a crucial component of passing down a better life to her daughter.
It’s not easy humanizing murders, but in “Respectfully, Tony,” seniors John Haley and Julia Szromba do just that in under 15 minutes. The emotionally resonant documentary follows former death row inmate Tony Amadeo’s return to society, intimately portraying a troubled man’s search for normalcy and purpose on a southern ranch in Texas. The film’s patient diligence in capturing the essence of both Amadeo and his peaceful rural environment provided the film festival with some of its most moving movements. Like many of the other films featured in the festival, “Respectfully Tony” ends on a serious note, detailing the number of death sentences issued in the U.S. since 1973 across a peaceful evening sky.
Presence of sexual assault/“As of Now”
Mirroring the attention our society is currently giving to the topic of sexual assault and its victims, this year’s film festival included three selections centered on the topic. The films, “Rescued,” “The Aftermath” and “As of Now” each portrayed sexual assault in a different light, creating a nuanced interpretation of the complex issue. The most successful of the bunch, “As of Now” portrayed the often-criticized Title IX hearing process in the wake of an assault at a familiar off-campus party setting. The film’s strength lies in its attention to detail — each vivid setting feels real, and the dialogue and chemistry between the film’s leads, Grace Guibert and Liz Hynes (both ‘17), is very believable. The effect is humanizing, forcing the viewer to empathize with the victim and consider more deeply the long-term effects of an assault.
One of the freshest entries this year was the festival’s opening film, “Spilt Milk,” a nursery rhyme–themed detective noir style film. In the comedy, Detective Murdock (senior Al Oszewski) is tasked with uncovering a cookie-jar thief, resulting in a wild goose chase around the nursery-rhyme world. Oszewski, along with almost all of his fellow actors and actresses in the film, shine with great comedic timing and presence. But it is one of the film’s creators, Tanner Cipriano (‘17), who delivers the film’s, and for that matter, the festival’s, funniest performances as the too-close-for-comfort cop.