Annual FTT Student Film Festival brings student classwork, documentaries to the big screen
Claire Reid | Friday, January 21, 2022
The Department of Film, Television and Theatre (FTT) will host the 33rd annual Notre Dame Student Film Festival this weekend in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center’s (DPAC) Browning Cinema.
The festival will feature the work of 22 student filmmakers created in the Intro to Film Production, Intermediate Film Production and Documentary Production courses offered by the FTT department. Festival screenings are open to the public and will take place Friday and Saturday at 6:30 p.m. and on Sunday at 7 p.m.
FTT professor Ted Mandell founded the annual festival in 1990 and still vividly remembers the first one.
“[It] was in the basement of the old Center for Continuing Education,” he recalled. “The students put the show together, and I think it was almost three hours long … I believe there were maybe 50 to 75 people who attended.”
Since then, festival attendance has grown steadily, requiring larger venues as time progressed. First, the event was moved to the Snite Museum of Art, then Hesburgh Library’s Carey Auditorium, and, since 2005, it has taken place in the Browning Cinema.
Even after almost three and a half decades helping students organize the festival, Mandell said he is still excited to witness the audience’s response to the films.
This year’s 120-minute lineup will feature 13 short films spanning a variety of genres including comedy, horror, drama and documentary.
“[There’s] a little bit for everyone,” Mandell said. “There are films shot in Texas, Washington, Nebraska, Illinois and right here on campus.”
After each screening, the audience will have the opportunity to vote for their favorite film via text message. The winning film will receive the Audience Choice Award following the Sunday night screening.
“It’ll be nice to have the public be able to attend again,” Mandell said.
Last year’s festival was restricted to students, faculty and staff due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the rise in cases of the Omicron variant, the cinema will be at 75% capacity this year, allowing for 150 attendees at each screening. Tickets are required for attendance and are available for purchase on the DPAC website.
Mandell encouraged all to attend, especially students.
“Most people have no idea the amount of time and effort that goes into producing even the shortest of short films,” he said. “You have to be passionate to be a filmmaker, and these students are passionate.”
Peter Nichols, a senior from Cleveland, Ohio, discovered his passion for filmmaking in one of Mandell’s production classes in the fall of 2020. Originally an accountancy major, he added a second major in FTT focusing on film production.
Despite this being Nichols’ first time participating in the festival, he has two films featured in it. He described the first, “Puppy Love,“ as a fictional short about college romance.
“This film is more concerned about stylization in production as the lighting, camera movement, angles and so forth were intricately planned out,” he said.
His second film, “The Ismailzais,“ was created for Mandell’s Documentary Production course in partnership with fellow FTT senior Nate Robards. The film follows a family of Afghan refugees as they adapt to life in Austin, Texas after arriving there in August.
“When Professor Mandell told us we could choose any topic, he advised us to ‘think big‘,” Nichols recalled. “Nate and I thought about the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan and how countless people were fleeing to the United States to seek refuge … We wanted to portray the first-person perspective of what acclimating to the U.S. was actually like for a family with children.”
After reaching out to the Austin Independent School District, Nichols and Robards were connected with the Ismailzai family. When they began filming in Austin, the filmmakers struggled to find a Pashto interpreter, which they believed would be necessary in order to speak with the Ismailzais. When they eventually found someone to assist, Nichols said the first conversation with the interpreter was one of the most memorable moments making the film.
“After breaking the ice by meeting and communicating with the family through the interpreter, we were ready to interview the father,” Nichols said. “We set up, got the camera ready, and I asked the first question. To my surprise, the father began answering the questions in English.”
Senior FTT and theology student Ivan Skvaril also has a documentary featured in the festival. His film “Cyrus” — which he created with classmate Ted Nagy — follows former professional surfer and van life influencer Cyrus Sutton, who has spent the last decade building a homestead in rural Washington.
A Guam native, Skvaril grew up surfing with his brothers. He said he has long looked up to Sutton and finds his unique perspective on the world interesting.
“In recent years, there’s definitely been more of a push by various groups to ‘get back to the land’ and return to a simpler life as the modern world is becoming increasingly more complicated with technology and globalization,” Skvaril said. “Cyrus is an example of someone who’s taking on this challenge of disconnecting from the systems we all rely on.”
The film follows Sutton’s experiences growing his own food, building a shelter, making his own clothing and disconnecting from the Internet in favor of connecting with his neighbors.
“[It] drives home the point that the “simple life” is not all easy and comes with its own unique set of challenges,” Skvaril said.
Following graduation, Skvaril hopes to return to Guam, start his own commercial production company and create surfing films on the side. Fellow FTT senior and film festival participant Justin George echoed a similar sentiment regarding his future career goals (Editor’s Note: George is the video unit leader for The Observer).
“Film is my passion,” the Lawrence, Michigan native said. “It’s really the only thing I can see myself doing.”
A self-proclaimed horror enthusiast, George’s film “Carcosa“ was influenced by Robert W. Chambers’ 1895 horror novel “The King in Yellow.“
“It’s a really simple film that follows this guy who has this mysterious box,” George explained. “The box contains some kind of unknown evil, and the guy’s just trying to get rid of it.”
He created the film with classmate Sam Eppich for professor Bill Donaruma’s Intermediate Film Production course. The students were required to include a box in their film in addition to other prescribed props and plot elements, so for George, the challenge was making a box scary.
“We thought, ‘What if every time you open the box, something bad happened?’” he said. “There’s something bad in the box, like a bad force.”
He said the best part of creating “Carcosa” was shooting the film.
“It was the most fun I’ve ever had on a set,” he said. “A lot of the people in this festival actually crewed on this film, so it’ll be great to see their work.”