The Department of Film, Television and Theater (FTT) will host the 33rd edition Notre Dame Student Film Festival this weekend at the Browning Cinema at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center (DPAC).
The festival will showcase the work of 22 student filmmakers created in the Introduction 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 on Friday and Saturday at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m.
FTT Professor Ted Mandell founded the annual festival in 1990 and still remembers the first one vividly.
“[It] was in the basement of the old Center for Continuing Education,” he recalls. “The students put on the show, and I think it lasted almost three hours…I think there were maybe 50 to 75 people who attended.”
Since then, festival attendance has grown steadily, requiring larger venues over time. First, the event was moved to the Snite Museum of Art, then to the Carey Auditorium at the Hesburgh Library, and, since 2005, it has taken place at the Browning Cinema.
Even after nearly three and a half decades of helping students organize the festival, Mandell said he was still thrilled to see the audience reaction to the films.
This year’s 120-minute lineup will feature 13 shorts spanning a variety of genres, including comedy, horror, drama and documentary.
“[There’s] a little for everyone,” Mandell said. “There are movies shot in Texas, Washington, Nebraska, Illinois, and right here on campus.
After each screening, the public will be able to vote for their favorite film by SMS. The winning film will receive the audience award after the Sunday evening screening.
“It will be nice for the public to be able to participate again,” Mandell said.
Last year’s festival was restricted to students, faculty and staff due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the increase in cases of the Omicron variant, the cinema will be at 75% capacity this year, allowing 150 spectators at each screening. Tickets are required for participation and are available for purchase on the DPAC website.
Mandell encouraged everyone to attend, especially students.
“Most people have no idea how much time and effort it takes to produce even the shortest of shorts,” 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 a major in accounting, he added a second major in FTT focused on film production.
Although this is the first time that Nichols has taken part in the festival, he presents two films there. He described the first, “puppy love, “like a short fictional film about college romance.
“This film is more concerned with stylization in production than lighting, camera movement, angles and so on were meticulously planned,” he said.
His second film, “The is Ismailiz,“ was created for Mandell’s Documentary Production course in partnership with fellow FTT senior Nate Robards. The film follows an Afghan refugee family as they adjust to life in Austin, Texas after arriving in August.
“When Professor Mandell told us we could choose any subject, he advised us to ‘think big’,” recalls Nichols. “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 this what acclimatization to the United States really was for a family with children.”
After contacting the Austin Independent School District, Nichols and Robards were put in touch with the Ismailzai family. When they started filming in Austin, the filmmakers struggled to find a Pashtun interpreter, whom they thought was necessary to speak with the Ismailzais. When they finally found someone to help them, Nichols said the first conversation with the performer was one of the film’s most memorable moments.
“After breaking the ice by meeting and communicating with the family through the interpreter, we were ready to interview the father,” Nichols said. “We settled in, got the camera ready and I asked the first question. To my surprise, the father started answering questions in English.
Senior FTT and theology student Ivan Skvaril also presented a documentary as part of the festival. His film “Cyrus” — which he created with schoolmate Ted Nagy — follows the former pro surfer and van life influencer Cyrus Suton, who has spent the past decade building a farm in rural Washington.
Originally from Guam, Skvaril grew up surfing with his brothers. He said he had long admired Sutton and found his unique perspective on the world interesting.
“In recent years there has certainly been more effort by various groups to ‘come back to the earth’ and get back to a simpler life as the modern world becomes more and more complicated with technology and the globalization,” Skvaril said. “Cyrus is an example of someone rising to the challenge of disconnecting from the systems we all rely on.”
The film follows Sutton’s experiences growing her own food, building a shelter, making her own clothes, and disconnecting from the internet to connect with her neighbors.
“[It] drives home that the ‘simple life’ isn’t always easy and comes with its own set of challenges,” Skvaril said.
After graduating, Skvaril hopes to return to Guam, start his own commercial production company, and create surf movies on the side. Senior FTT member and film festival attendee Justin George echoed a similar sentiment regarding his future career goals (Editor’s Note: George is the Video Unit Manager for The Observer).
“Cinema is my passion,” said the Lawrence, Michigan native. “It’s really the only thing I 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 very simple movie that follows this guy who has this mystery box,” George explained. “The box contains some kind of unknown evil, and the guy is 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 had to include a box in their film in addition to other prescribed props and plot elements, so for George the challenge was to make a box scary.
“We thought, ‘What if every time you open the box, something bad happens? “”, Did he declare. “There is something bad in the box, like bad strength.”
He said the best part of creating “Carcose” was shooting the movie.
“It was the most fun I’ve ever had on set,” he said. “A lot of people from this festival actually participated in this film, so it will be great to see their work.”