Harvard College Film Festival Engages Young Filmmakers

Although Harvard is the alma mater of renowned directors ranging from Terrence F. Malick ’65 to Damien S. Chazelle ’07, it did not have an official student film festival until last year, when the Harvard College Film Festival was founded. In April 2014, the student-run organization first screened student films submitted from around the country, organized lectures by panelists, and gave nine awards (including Best Directing and Best Cinematography) to films across four categories of submissions (Experimental, Documentary/Social Change, Fiction and Super Shorts). This year, the second Harvard College Film Festival, which will run from April 13 to 18, hopes to expand its scale and influence.  

Whereas the first Harvard College Film Festival ran for only one day, this year it will last for four days and include more speeches and social events, in addition to more screenings. According to Panchi Simeto ’17, one of the festival's directors, this year’s theme will be “Young Visionaries: The Different Faces of Film,” which seeks to explore the ways young filmmakers have a sweeping, creative impact. The festival plans to achieve this by focusing on three different categories in its program: the artistic, the political, and the comedic. To highlight the first two elements, the festival will not only present the student films in the competition but also host a special screening of “American Promise,” winner of Special Jury Prize at Sundance in 2013. To emphasize its comedy component, the organizers will also collaborate with The Immediate Gratification Players, On Harvard Time, and the Harvard College Stand-Up Comics Society for an event on Friday. “Our main focus this year is how can we grow it [and] how can we just make it more known,” says Hannah A. Nunez ’15, co-director of the film festival.

This year’s longer festival is also expanded through its larger number of more diverse submissions. Boosted by the experience and connections from the first film festival, the organization reached out to many other Ivy League schools and colleges with eminent film departments and received very positive feedback. “We have a very good PR team this year…. [Compared to] our submissions from last year, [submissions this year] almost doubled,” Simeto says. These films will be reviewed by a panel of judges that consists of professional filmmakers and professors from universities, including Harvard and Emerson, and the selected films will be shown at the student screenings portion of the film festival.

The organization’s short history presents many challenges, especially in terms of money. “Being a new organization and having little information...from last year in terms of being able to get funding is the biggest challenge for this year’s fundraising team,” Simeto says. “Luckily…the UC and the Office for the Arts have been very generous, and the event finally worked out well.”

Regardless of such challenges, Simeto hopes the film festival will connect film lovers at Harvard and help them explore the industry. “My whole goal with the film festival has been to bridge a community of young filmmakers at Harvard that seems at times a bit refracted,” she says. “There are a lot of different organizations that are smaller...but beyond that, there’s not a unifying group on campus that can combine a lot of people’s interest in film.”


Simeto further believes that it is important for young filmmakers to meet new people who share similar interests, so, apart from film screenings, the film festival also organizes social events and workshops that are open both to those eager to enter the industry and those who simply enjoy watching films. Another goal of the festival is to expose young filmmakers at Harvard to the works of their peers at other universities, from Yale to NYU to USC. “We want to see what [other] people are doing, what people are excited about, and kind of open up the community to not only Harvard students but beyond,” Simeto says.

Ultimately, it is this desire to connect the film community that drives the mission of the film festival. “[We want it] to be something that the film community could be excited about and what Harvard can be excited about,” Nunez says.


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