Students showcase films in annual film festival
Morgan Johnson | Monday, January 29, 2018
Notre Dame student filmmakers were in the spotlight this weekend with the Film, Television and Theater (FTT) department’s 29th annual showcase of the Student Film Festival. The showings took place Friday and Saturday at 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m. in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center (DPAC).
The festival was a representation of work from the fall semester from students enrolled in documentary, film fiction and production classes. The FTT department then selected certain movies to be featured in the festival.
Student filmmaker senior Grace Weissend recognizes the importance of the festival as an outlet for students to express creativity in the form of media. However, the students experienced multiple restraints during the process of shooting and editing the films.
“There are certain limitations that come from making a student film and it’s impressive to see what students can do with these limitations in terms of budget, equipment, actors and time,” Weissend said. “It takes so much time to even make a short film.”
The film festival also provided students with the opportunity to share their voices about controversial topics on campus and internationally.
“It’s great to hear student perspectives on issues and hear student voices and stories,” Weissend said. “I think that’s something really empowering about the Student Film Festival.”
Weissend’s film is a fictional narrative that is based on her own experience of her high school boyfriend breaking up with her in a fast-food restaurant. In addition to Weissend’s comedic flick, the festival also featured documentaries, dramas and silent films. During the preliminary screenings to choose the festival’s pieces, FTT professors placed emphasis on quality but also the scope of works.
Editor’s note: Grace Weissend is a Scene writer for The Observer.
Sophomore filmmaker Eileen DiPofi said that the festival is designed to allow students to explore an unchartered territory of innovation and creation.
“There are a lot of creative people in the FTT department so it’s a cool way for us as students to share our voice in a way we don’t get to as often,” DiPofi said. “It’s important to hear the next generation of potential filmmakers and it’s excellent that the University provides the opportunity to share our opinions and experiment with something new.”
DiPofi’s film “Smoke Break” is a silent film that equipped her with foundational knowledge to move forward in her filmmaking career.
“This is the first time for me making a film so I just want to play with new things,” DiPofi said. “I wanted to see what techniques would elicit an audience. It’s exciting to hear how people will respond to the film because I’ve never had something I made be on a screen like that. The festival as a whole talks about different topics, but it will be cool for people on campus to see what film majors are doing.”
Due to strict deadlines, time limitations played a major role in the production of student films. Student filmmakers senior John Haley and senior Julia Szromba only had four days to shoot footage. They travelled to Texas to interview the focus of their film, an ex-prisoner named Tony.
“There was a lot of preparation beforehand contacting Tony, getting flights and funding,” Haley said. “Once we were there, whatever footage we got was all we were going to be able to use. We shot ten hours total of footage at least and when we came back it was all about editing and trying to piece together a story from all the different moments we had.”
Haley and Szromba’s film “Respectfully, Tony” discusses Tony’s experience being incarcerated for 39 years with 11 years on death row for murder. Haley and Szromba visited Tony in Texas to talk about his adjustment to the world outside of prison.
“The film focuses on the death penalty, but it’s just a portrait of one person,” Szromba said. “We hope it will make people rethink this very difficult issue through this one man. This is not a clear cut case. Our goal is to keep the conversation going.”
In addition to the annual film festival, undergraduate students can gain filmmaking experience through the FTT program “First Time Fans.” The program allows Notre Dame alumni to return to campus during a football weekend and work with students to capture the University’s life and spirit. The media and industry club and Fighting Irish Media also further engage students with filmmaking to complement the work done in class.
Notre Dame associate professional specialist Ted Mandell noted the crucial role of the audience during the festival and for movie making in general.
“You can edit a film all you want but it’s not a film until you show it in front of an audience,” Mandell said. “The audience is critical to understanding how the film is viewed. These films create a time capsule of the University and the creative ideas of students at that time.”
Mandell said the goal of the festival is to showcase student work and impact the audience.
“You make a film for other people,” he said. “To use art to change our views and the way people see is a powerful tool. Once students graduate they’ll understand that there needs to be a purpose behind it. It’s not about the craft of filmmaking. It’s what you make that matters.”