Ivy Film Festival Unites Student Filmmakers

PROVIDENCE, R.I.­—The glitterati of student film descended on Providence last weekend, drawn by panels with industry bigwigs, complimentary hotel rooms, and a chance at some small-time glory.

The occasion was the fourth Ivy Film Festival, an event run by Brown undergraduates in an attempt to foster the pan-collegiate community of filmmakers. The three-day festival featured film and screenplay competitions, hours of screenings, discussions with alumni working in entertainment, lunches, parties, and visiting artists.

The festival, which annually features celebrity speakers, was a little dimmer in star wattage compared to years past. Previous attendees have included Oliver Stone, Adrien Brody, and Tim Robbins. The more low-key speakers that attended this year’s fest included “Meet the Parents” screenwriter John Hamburg and Ellen Kuras, the cinematographer for “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”

But as Duncan A. Johnson ’05—whose 15-minute film “Junior Achiever” screened at the festival—put it, the real value of the festival was that “I got to see what students at other schools are doing, which we never have a chance to do around here.”

David W. Rizk ’05, who is also a Crimson editor, worked on the staff of the festival as the promotional liaison with Harvard. He believes that the Ivy Film Festival is “the premiere film festival that is open to Harvard students in a real and active way.”

“One of the peculiar things about filmmaking in the Ivy League,” Rizk says, “is that none of the schools have film schools, so they teach an expressionistic sort of filmmaking and not an industrial sort, which makes the students not very competitive in national competitions. The Ivy Film Festival is designed to cater to the types of programs that exist at these schools.”

Each edition of the festival has seen marked growth in scope, fetching more diverse and more polished entries. This year, the festival received about 200 submissions and screened 25 films. “But,” Johnson adds, “I think the more they get, the more diverse and colorful the films will be.”

Students from Harvard have participated since the beginning, however, and have never left the festival empty-handed, dominating the documentary film category every year and often taking other awards as well.

This year, May L. Lugemwa ’04, took the title of Best Undergraduate Documentary for her moving film, “Former Nationality”—an exploration of the tenuous relationship she and her mother have with Uganda, their former homeland, set during their first trip back after emigrating more than a decade earlier.

Despite the strides the festival has made toward professionalism over the years, the screenings were still plagued by technical difficulties. Numerous films had to be restarted after they froze, and a few failed to make it to the big screen at all during the weekend.

“The Crossing,” an ironically humorous animated short by Oliver A. Horovitz ’08, was one of the films that got off to a rough start because of technical shortcomings. “They had to replay it a couple of times,” he says. “They also said they’d play it in the big theater upstairs but they messed up making the DVDs,” so it screened only in the smaller basement theater.

But Horovitz is the first to say that the undergraduates running the festival are not to blame. “They put on a really good event,” he says. “My dad is a screenwriter and he was there and told me this kind of thing happens all the time, even at the Cannes Film Festival.”

But Johnson was impressed with the festival as a whole, particularly the treatment of the filmmakers. “I stayed overnight and they put me up in the Marriott,” he says. “They rented out a whole bar for us on Saturday night.”

Still, the best part for Horovitz, and for many of the filmmakers, was the chance to meet and mingle with other student artists. “There was an amazing documentary being screened called ‘Murderball,’” he says, “and I ended up hanging out with the guys who made that film for a good part of the weekend asking them questions, which was great because I’m making a documentary right now.”

“There was definitely potential there to make cool contacts with other kids. I arranged to have some kids crew for me this summer in New York. It was good to just get a lot of kids who love the same things I do,” Horovitz adds.

Rizk says that Horovitz’s experience is what the Ivy Film Festival is all about. “There are no serious prizes associated with it,” he says. “I’d encourage people to submit and come because the benefit is mostly in seeing your film in the context of other people’s filmmaking.”

According to Rizk, there is a chance that in the future the festival will move around, which could mean that Harvard might host it in years to come. “If Harvard showed an interest in developing its filmmaking and film studies programs it could get off the ground,” he says. “I mean, look at JD Connor’s [’92] class on Hollywood and Elvis Mitchell’s class on film criticism. They’re really popular, and I think for very good reason.”

Johnson and Horovitz both recommend the festival as a venue for the work of Harvard’s filmmakers. “A huge part of the filmmaking process is actually when you’re done just showing it around to people,” Horovitz says. “You spend 100 hours of your life cramped up in this small space and you should be rewarded by having people see it.”

—Staff writer Alexandra B. Moss can be reached at abmoss@fas.harvard.edu.