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The best of Notre Dame’s 2023 Student Film Festival

, , , and | Monday, January 30, 2023

Notre Dame’s Film, Television and Theatre students put Sundance to shame with the 34th 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 “Lily.” All the films this year were fantastic — we just don’t have space to review them all. Kudos to the budding filmmakers at Notre Dame!

Courtest of Ted Mandell and the FTT program.

Crescendo (John Brach, Emily Hunt, Margaret Murray)

The often private experience of a musician (a pianist in this case, played by Solomon Duane), is brought to the forefront in an examination of the struggle to practice and master a piece. Free from dialogue, the filmmakers use vivid visuals and music (including underwater sequences) to weave together their narrative. The simple premise focuses the viewer on the interiority of the pianist, bringing the audience through the practice rooms of the pianist’s past and present, and finally to the stage. Brach, Hunt and Murray remind the audience of the power of music and visual storytelling to bring their narrative to life. — Erin Farmer, Scene Writer

Courtesy of Ted Mandell and the FTT program.

Sew Loved (Abby Urban, Liz Maroshick)

In this heartwarming documentary about a local non-profit, “Sew Loved” shines a light on how sewing and quilting has uplifted marginalized and underserved women in South Bend. Sew Loved was founded in 2012, and has lifted women out of poverty (via industrial sewing classes) ever since. A woman has been going to Sew Loved for 10 years. Through the nonprofit’s generous donation of materials and equipment, she has been able to make quilts for her family to remember her by. — Claire Lyons, Associate Scene Editor

Courtesy of Ted Mandell and the FTT program.

Waiting For Buffalo (Grace Beutter, Aidan O’Malley)

Editor’s Note: Aidan O’Malley is the Managing Editor of The Observer.

“Waiting For Buffalo” is an extremely affecting glimpse into life on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.  The film follows two Oglala Sioux men who are transporting buffalo into a pen on the reservation, with historical clips and information slides providing a greater context on the destruction of buffalo and the condition of the Sioux people. The two, we learn, are inextricably bound; the buffalo were eliminated as they were a crucial food source for Native Americans. The buffalo themselves are shown as both powerful and peaceful, racing by the camera one moment and then loitering in the pen, simple animals. It is hard to ignore their tragedy when we see them, and the same is true of the Sioux people. The moment when the two men discuss selling buffalo calves to supplement the tribe’s income is devastating. As they stand alone in desolation, beside a skeletal pen, the suffering is impossible to evade. It’s unspeakable. “Waiting For Buffalo” is an exceptional confrontation with one of this country’s greatest ongoing tragedies. — Ayden Kowalski, Scene Writer

Courtesy of Ted Mandell and the FTT program.

Butterfly (Ryan Lin, Sen Li)

In “Butterfly,” a girl considers her life through choice and chance. After receiving a job offer from one of the best consulting firms in the country, she must decide to either accept or decline the offer. Accepting means the promise of a prestigious job and a life with her boyfriend. However, it also means she must move away from her aging grandmother. This choice is examined through the flip of a coin, yet the result of the flip is never revealed and is ultimately negligible. After a montage reflecting the outcomes of either decision, she meets herself on the edge of a lake. No matter what decision the protagonist makes, notes her double, she has a strong sense of duty to her family and will end up returning to aid her grandmother. “Butterfly” pinpoints the experience of making tough life decisions. It highlights how the forces around us push us to choose and how our values affect our reality. — Anna Falk, Scene Writer

Courtesy of Ted Mandell and the FTT program.

To Dust Ye Shall Return (Hank McNeil, Ryan Vigilante, JP Spoonmore)

Editor’s Note: Ryan Vigilante is the Photo Editor of The Observer and J.P. Spoonmore is the Video Unit Leader.

Friends make us better. They challenge us to run faster, focus on homework and clean our rooms. In the case of “To Dust Ye Shall Return,” a friend is a great influence. The only caveat is… you have to drink your friend’s ashes (like a protein shake). After a friend tragically dies in a drunk driving accident, the protagonist fulfills his friend’s last wish — to be cannibalized. In a creative twist on the rising cannibalism horror genre, “To Dust” subverts cannibalism superpower lore into a comedic story about friendship. — Claire Lyons, Associate Scene Editor

Courtesy of Ted Mandell and the FTT program.

Silent Steel (Michael Simon)

Simon’s film is a quiet examination of an artist at work, allowing us to meet the artist in these special moments. This short documentary follows Ivan Iler, a metal sculptor, combining verite elements with footage of himcreating his next project. The audience first meets him in his workshop, and as we watch him make a human face with metal, occasionally talking to himself, we cannot help but connect with his clear care and passion. There is a sadness to the film, as these sculptures are practically unknown, but there is great beauty in his process, which is captured with striking visuals. The audience cannot help but fall in love with him, and at the end, we get to see his published work, as he demonstrates an interactive sculpture of an elephant set in a town intersection.  “Silent Steel” is a rare opportunity to encounter an artist in their natural habitat, and it is magical to watch. — Ayden Kowalski, Scene Writer

Courtesy of Ted Mandell and the FTT program.


Lily (Suneina Badoni, Chloe Stafford)

Imagine having 50 seizures a day. This was life for Lily Boylan, who was diagnosed with epilepsy as just an infant. Her parents have tried everything: anti-epileptic drugs, CBD, special diets and a vagus nerve stimulator. Currently, she has two seizure alert dogs and is in non-traditional surf and horse therapies. Nothing worked until Lily tried medicinal mushrooms. At the time of the documentary, Lily was 20 weeks seizure-free. “Lily” documents her perseverance over adversity and the undying love of her parents. The film also advocates for medicinal mushrooms to be passed by the FDA. — Claire Lyons, Associate Scene Editor

Courtesy of Ted Mandell and the FTT program.

Tension (Tianji Lukins, Isa R. Maiz, Suneina Badoni)

“Tension” explores a disagreement between two roommates, but the conflict is escalated through the use of a voodoo doll. The voodoo doll provides symbolism throughout the film and raises the stakes of the conflict. The doll is used as a torture mechanism for near-death experiences. It takes away one roommate’s bodily autonomy, as he is held to whatever the other roommate desires. The film is a power struggle taken to the next level through this creative concept. It raises the question of how far things will go before a conflict is resolved. “Tension” is a fascinating spin on disagreement. — Rose Androwich, Scene Writer

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About Claire Lyons

Claire is the current Viewpoint Editor for The Observer. She is a senior from Fort Worth, TX with majors in Honors English and political science. She is interested in fostering free speech on campus, the latest non-fiction essay collections and Sufjan Stevens.

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About Ayden Kowalski

Ayden is a junior from Dallas, TX majoring in FTT.

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About Anna Falk

Anna is Scene Editor for the 2023-2024 academic year. She is a senior studying Neuroscience and Linguistic who talks about music too much for her own good. Follow her on Spotify @annam.falk

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About Rose Androwich

Rose Androwich is a junior majoring in creative writing with minors in journalism and English literature. Rose grew up in Berwyn, IL. Outside of The Observer Rose enjoys drinking lattes, writing, and discussing literature. Rose can be reached at [email protected].

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About Erin Farmer

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