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University to host 30th-annual film festival

| Friday, January 25, 2019

When Ted Mandell, film professor, founder and faculty organizer of the Notre Dame Film Festival, took a film production at the University, there was no means for showing student films to the larger Notre Dame community.

“You would show your film to your professor and to your parents at graduation weekend, and that was our chance to show our films to someone other than our classmates,” Mandell said.

When Mandell returned to Notre Dame after graduate school, he wanted to create an opportunity for students to showcase their work. The main aim of the event is to put student work in the spotlight and reward them for their hard work. 

Mandell said the festival is a way to help each student understand that they have the potential to create great art, despite their young age. 

“You’re not a student filmmaker anymore; you’re an artist,” he said. 

The first film festival was held in the basement of what is now McKenna Hall and there were 50 to 75 people there, Mandell said.

“I think we just put everything that anyone had ever [filmed] into the first one,” he said.

The festival was put on in a couple different venues over the years until 2004 when the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center was built. Now, the festival is two hours long and curation for the festival is more selective. Initially, only Mandell helped to organize the event, but now outreach specialist Stacey Stewart assists as well.

As the event has grown, so has its outreach, both on campus and across the nation. Several films in the past have made it into larger festivals around the country, Mandell said.

“[The festival] is a launching pad for where [the students] go in their careers. These students are going to go on and work for Dreamworks, Netflix, Lionsgate and more. That’s where our alumni go,” Mandell said.

Each FTT student completes two or three films a semester, so in any given year, there are around 150 projects. This year there are 11 short films in the festival — all produced last spring semester or the previous fall semester. Mandell has the final say of which films are included, but he also talks to other faculty members who teach production classes.

“If we have enough space, we try to get as many in there. We’ve always had films that could have been shown, but we just run out of time,” he said. “Just like any film festival, you have to choose.”

The settings for the films, both fiction films and documentaries, range from Notre Dame’s campus to the greater South Bend area to other states. There is a filmmaking endowment that allows students to travel for production and helps to pay for some production costs for narrative films. Without the endowment, Mandell said, students wouldn’t be able to make these films. 

From suspense films to comedies to serious documentaries, the content matter of this year’s festival varies widely.

Senior Beatty Smith, who partnered with senior Grace Tourville to produce their entry “Drift,” explained the plot of their film. 

[Editor’s note: Grace Tourville is a former photographer for The Observer].

“It’s about a girl who runs out of gas on a desolate country road and she seeks help in a nearby farmhouse,” Smith said. “When she gets there, it’s seemingly abandoned, but it looks as if it’s just been left moments ago. It’s a strange film — I will say that.

“I think our goal for the film was to create tension in the audience.”

Both Smith and Mandell said the audience’s reactions to the various films are essential to the film festival. 

“You’re sitting in the theater, and your whole point in making the film is to move someone emotionally. You want them to laugh, cry, be scared, learn something and to be in that space and watch it occur,” Mandell said. “It’s very nerve racking, but that part of filmmaking you can’t get in class.”

Senior Zach Lawson’s film “Shelter Me” is meant to incite a different response from the audience.

Lawson’s film follows one photographer, Nanette Martin, who professionally photographs shelter animals and homeless animals across the country, he said. 

“She’s basically dedicated her life to doing this,” Lawson said. “What she’s doing is really compelling, and the fact that someone is willing to risk that much to help helpless animals is important.”

All are invited to attend the film festival, discuss their thoughts on the films and place their vote for the Audience Choice Award. After each showing, the audience can vote for their favorite film via text message. The winner, or winners, will be presented with the Audience Choice Award after the final showing Sunday. 

“Most of the time when you’re making a film in class it’s like when you’re writing a paper; usually the people that are watching it are just your classmates,” Mandell said. “The feedback is completely different from someone watching your film in the movie theater.”

The 30th Annual Student Film Festival commences Friday, Jan. 25 at 7 p.m. There are also Saturday and Sunday showings at 3 and 7 p.m. Tickets are $7 for public, $6 for faculty, staff and seniors and $4 for students.  

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