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The best of Notre Dame’s 2022 Student Film Festival

, , and | Monday, January 24, 2022

Maggie Klaers | The Observer
IMAGE SOURCES: courtesy of Ted Mandell and the FTT program

Notre Dame’s own Film, Television and Theatre students put Sundance to shame with the 33rd annual Notre Dame Student Film Fest last weekend. With a diverse group of work — ranging from documentaries to dramatic shorts — this showcase demonstrates the creativity and wit of the Notre Dame student body. Working within the constraints of the semester, FTT majors rose above expectations and blew away the audience with “The Ismailzais.” All the films this year were fantastic — we just don’t have space to review them all. Kudos to the amazing budding filmmakers at Notre Dame! 

 

IMAGE SOURCES: courtesy of Ted Mandell and the FTT program

Cash Box (Chase Cummings, Ryan Lanser, John Adkins)

By Kate Casper, Scene Writer

Starring Jack Brown, this short film follows a struggling twenty-something facing eviction by the end of the day. He finds the notice of his eviction taped on his front door. Then, an empty box at his feet — the “cash box.” Whenever he puts an item in the box, he gets paper money back in return. However, he winds up breaking the box when he attempts to fit his office chair into the tiny cardboard constraints. In an effort to repair the cash box (and thus keep his home), he tapes up the box and attempts to put another item in leading to a shocking and hilarious twist. The shots were clear and crisp, while the sound effects and music added some comedic flair. Overall, “Cash Box” was an excellent film to kick off the festival as it was clean and laugh-out-loud funny. 

 

IMAGE SOURCES: courtesy of Ted Mandell and the FTT program

Garden of Eddy (Grant DelVecchio, Yiyi Niu, Litchfield Ajavon)

By Hayden Kirwan, Scene Writer

Among the fast-food chains, retail stores and apartments on Eddy Street, one solitary house still stands. “Garden of Eddy” chronicles the story of its longtime resident, Johnnie Johnson, who refused to sell the home to the university in 2007. The documentary contains excellent sound editing and camera work, but what makes it truly succeed is in granting the audience insight into its subject. Directors Grant DelVecchio, Yiyi Niu and Litchfield Ajavon trade quick cuts for drawn-out scenes of daily life. Moments of Johnson doing yard work or a tour of his house are effectively interspersed with his thoughts on Eddy Street. These interview clips contain ideas on gentrification and the destruction of the local environment. This relevant and essential perspective on a staple of Notre Dame life makes this short one of the standouts of the festival. “Garden of Eddy” is a well-made reminder to all of us to think about the broader South Bend community we live in and the impact the university has.

 

IMAGE SOURCES: courtesy of Ted Mandell and the FTT program

Cyrus (Ivan Skvaril, Ted Nagy)

By Kate Casper, Scene Writer

The documentary short film, “Cyrus,” features Cyrus Sutton, an adventure-seeking former pro surfer, on his latest escapade: a return to the earth and more natural living off-the-grid in Washington State. The film follows him on his daily exploits — from feeding his pigs with leftover local restaurant scraps to foraging for mushrooms to cook for dinner. Sutton is seeking something greater in life — a more “simple” life — but he notes that “simple” does not always mean “easy.” His new lifestyle proves to be the opposite of easy, which provides a commentary on how we all benefit from the systems that prioritize convenience over ethics or environmental consciousness. The walking shots that follow Cyrus and his friends throughout the film add an intimate touch to the production implicating the viewer into the larger narrative of the low-impact, rugged lifestyle.

 

IMAGE SOURCES: courtesy of Ted Mandell and the FTT program

Hang Man (John Adkins)

By Claire Lyons, Interim Scene Editor

This touching student film follows an actor with — get this — stage-fright. Actor Aidan Gordley convincingly panics in the waiting room for an audition. In an attempt to help, co-star, Isa Ruiz, plays a game of hangman to distract him from his pre-audition jitters. While it mainly deals with the worries of FTT majors, Hang Man touches on feelings that are universal to any college student: the fear of not being good enough. Hang Man makes the case that we can succeed — we can conquer our fears — through vulnerability and connection with others. With an expertly selected soundtrack and a montage about the main character prepping for the audition, Hang Man solidifies itself as a tear-jerker.

 

IMAGE SOURCES: courtesy of Ted Mandell and the FTT program

Anyone Could Win (Scott Kiley, Colin Campbell)

By Natalie Allton, Scene Writer

Student films are at their best when there’s clear passion and enjoyment put into creating them and “Anyone Can Win” has both in spades. Star, Jacob Neisewander, plays his role with all the comedic timing and charm of a classic 80s movie lead (think Matthew Broderick and John Cusack) — closeups of his expressions alone were enough to elicit laughter from the audience. His performance, combined with a delightfully melodramatic soundtrack and well-timed cuts, give the film such a fun and light tone that the whole theater was having a palpably good time. The narrative structure, though, truly makes this film worth the watch. The filmmakers have perfectly set up and subverted audience expectations; there’s a captivating sort of confusion for most of the film, as the audience watches the protagonist cut out a family meatloaf recipe and (hilariously) gaze with tear-filled eyes at a family portrait. Just as the viewer wonders where the plot is going, the narrative is gloriously paid off in one simple shot that resulted in explosive reactions from the entire theater. Without spoilers — Scott Kiley and Colin Campbell have created a delightful nugget of comedy and charisma that I’ll be thinking about for a long time.

 

IMAGE SOURCES: courtesy of Ted Mandell and the FTT program

Saving Sister Cindy (Joel Mandell, Sam Eppich)

By Natalie Allton, Scene Writer

In the modern, Gen Z-influenced culture of internet fame and post-irony, ideas can reach wide audiences without the context of being satirical or in earnest. Enter Sister Cindy, an evangelical Christian preacher who’s been trying to spread her message for over 30 years and who has recently found herself on the receiving end of TikTok virality. Her “slut-shaming” message, succinctly summed up by her motto, “Ho No Mo,” is shameless, controversial and wildly popular — and brilliantly documented by Joel Mandell and Sam Eppich, whose combination of interviews, archival footage and TikToks serve to paint a complex portrait of a woman who’s passionate about her work, for better or worse. “Saving Sister Cindy” is a particular standout and a layered examination of virality, irony and how social media can hatch the most unexpected of celebrities. My only complaint: it needs to be feature-length.

 

IMAGE SOURCES: courtesy of Ted Mandell and the FTT program

*AUDIENCE CHOICE AWARD WINNER*

The Ismailzais (Peter Nichols, Nate Robards) 

By Claire Lyons, Interim Scene Editor

Shortly before the Taliban took over Kabul in August 2021, the Ismailzais moved to the United States as Afghan refugees. This short film documents the family’s adaptation to their new life in Austin, Texas — following Mr. Fazal Ismailzai at the grocery store, the children at school and the family’s interactions in their small apartment. Spliced with fear-mongering news stories about immigration, the documentary proves that immigrants — the Ismailzais — are anything but scary. Mr. Ismailzai carries his children’s oversized backpacks on the mile-long walk to their school and picks up bananas from Wal-Mart because his kids love them. The Ismailzai children try their best in school despite the language barrier. The children play and hug in their apartment complex parking lot as a chorus of their classmates sing the national anthem in the background. The documentary short tenderly captures how much the Ismailzai family loves each other. Ultimately, “The Ismailzais” goes above and beyond as a student film; it is a testament to the resilience and humanity of refugees.

 

IMAGE SOURCES: courtesy of Ted Mandell and the FTT program

Puppy Love (Lizzie Todd, Peter Nichols)

By Kate Casper, Scene Writer

‘Puppy Love’ is a heartfelt short film that follows a college boy on a mission to win over his crush by gifting her an arts-and-crafts project, an origami flower. The film opens with the boy, played by JD Carney, a recent Notre Dame graduate, stumbling up the basement steps of a college party, abandoning the distant echo of rowdy partygoers, with intense classical music fading in. After finishing his drink, he gets a surge of inspiration to cut a picture out of a puppy calendar and fold it into a paper flower under the warm glow of his desk lamp. However, he is not able to give his flower to his crush. The intensity of the music, lighting and camera movement was well-executed, especially the smooth panning in the various scenes. In addition, the narrative was presented well, especially with the lack of dialogue combined with the classical instrumentals. Overall, this sweet short film, inspired by co-director Lizzie Todd’s friend’s real-life flirting strategy, was well-shot and funny, perfectly encapsulating the all-too-relatable college experience of attending a party in hopes of charming a love interest. 

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About Claire Lyons

Claire is a sophomore from Fort Worth, TX studying Political Science and English. She is currently serving as Interim Scene Editor for The Observer. She loves Sufjan Stevens, indie movies and peanut M&Ms.

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About Kate Casper

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About Hayden Kirwan

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About Natalie Allton

Natalie Allton is a sophomore from Columbus, OH studying Neuroscience and English. She likes watching bad movies, forcing all of her friends to watch bad movies, and writing about bad movies.

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