Student festival promotes intercollegiate film

McConomy Auditorium saw an influx of film lovers, friends of filmmakers, and casual observers on Saturday night as part of the SHOT FOR SHOT Student Film Festival. Like the Carnegie Mellon International Film Festival, which ended two weekends ago, this film festival is yet another effort to draw the campus’ attention to the world of filmmaking.

But this year, the festival organizers decided to try something different. This year was the first time that the Carnegie Mellon Film Club opened the festival to submissions from across Pittsburgh. Films came from six schools in total, and the screened films included work by students at Carnegie Mellon, Point Park University, and the University of Pittsburgh — often in collaboration with students at other schools.

The result was a rich and impressive display of Pittsburgh student filmmaking talent — a sparkling achievement of a film festival. As Carnegie Mellon Film Club co-president and senior directing major Stephen Tonti said in his introduction to the festival, “We really are promoting intercollegiate filmmaking.” And according to Tonti, the quality of the submissions “goes to show how much artistic creativity is actually in this city.”

The films were fantastic and surprisingly high in quality, considering that they were put together by students. Most of the films were 10–13 minutes in length, although there were a few two- or three-minute films that were almost too short to process.

The festival opened with a fabulously amusing piece called The Big Fold by Bailey Donovan of Point Park University, which follows a young boy whose mother charges him with breaking his father’s poker trophy. We watched as the boy assumed the identity of his favorite crime-movie detective on a quest to prove his own innocence. The film simultaneously pokes fun at the drama and serious dialogue of old black-and-white movies and at the childish fantasies we all have about our favorite heroes.

Other highlights included Hotel Romance by Corey Sweazen of Point Park University, which uses a clean aesthetic and surreal special effects to tell the story of a bizarre relationship between a man and a woman, the entirety of which takes place in a hotel. In a very different approach, Dominic Rodriguez’s nonfiction Fursonas explores the unusual lifestyle of “fursuiters” — people who dress up in fur suits — through documentary-style interviews. And in typical coming-of-age fashion, The Perils of Growing Up Flat-Chested by Carnegie Mellon alumna Yulin Kuang (DC ’12) follows a girl with body image issues who is determined to impress her science-project partner and crush.

Another audience favorite was Fade by Josh Lopata of Point Park University, an intricate and beautiful animation film that explored the struggle of a young boy to cope with his father’s death. The rich animation — accomplished through puppetry and miniature set construction — took between one-and-a-half and two years of work, and the result proved to be spectacular. The film represents death metaphorically as a threatening, black, shapeless monster that the boy literally grapples with throughout the movie. The final scene — in which the monster finally takes the boy’s dad — sent a hushed sadness over the crowd that only lifted when the audience clapped wildly during the ending credits.

When the judges took the stage after the screening, each emphasized how genuinely difficult the decision was to pick only two winners among the films. It was easy to see why: The films were vastly diverse in their subject matter, aesthetic, and general approaches, and many of them were equally excellent in very different ways. Ultimately, The Big Fold won the Grand Jury Prize, while The Perils of Growing Up Flat-Chested won the Special Jury Prize. Meanwhile, Fade took the Audience Award, which was determined by audience members who passed up paper ballots marking their favorite film of the evening.

The festival benefited greatly from welcoming submissions from schools all across Pittsburgh, and the result was a truly inspiring display of the excellence of Pittsburgh intercollegiate filmmaking. As Carnegie Mellon Film Club co-president and senior business administration major Nicolas Hurt said in his introduction to the festival, “This year, we wanted to do something much bigger.” They certainly pulled it off.