An expanding vision
By Arianne Beros ’12M
The student-run Visions Film Festival and Conference has expanded its scope since its 2006 debut.
Last year's edition featured some radical changes, including a new venue. The Cucalorus Film Festival had generously donated screening space to Visions, but in 2011 Visions moved to UNCW's Lumina Theater. The two-hour event also expanded to fill a whole day.
Watch student videos made during the 1Hour/1Take video race
Visions 2012 continued to build its new model while celebrating the conference and international elements that has made Visions a truly unique opportunity for undergraduate filmmakers and scholars.
"A lot of students come into the major mostly interested in Hollywood big budget filmmaking," says UNCW film studies assistant professor and Visions director Shannon Silva. "Most of us come to film as a career because we had a really good time at the movie theatre growing up."
But filmmaking and film scholarship have a rich history extending far beyond Tinseltown. UNCW film studies department's courses explore underground movements, independent film, animation and documentary, and while the students are encouraged to keep a finger on Hollywood's pulse, the same goes for Bollywood and eastern European cinema.
When Silva and her students decided to expand Visions into a screening and a conference, they also broadened their pool of applicants from UNCW undergraduates to undergraduates worldwide. Making the festival an international endeavor builds upon the department's multicultural curriculum, helps students gain a global perspective on film studies, introduces them to a wider spectrum of artistic and scholarly possibilities and exposes them to the work of peers around the globe.
It shows them options of production and scholarship they don't yet know about.
"It's really amazing to see what students just like me are producing on the other side of the world," Visions assistant director Maryosha Eggleston '12 says.
For many of these reasons, the checklist for the festival's keynote speaker is extensive: international, undergraduate, filmmaker and scholar. This year, Javi Zubizarreta screened Zuretzako, his award-winning documentary about his Basque shepherd grandfather.
Visions has been a showcase for UNCW students to screen their films to the larger Wilmington community, and faculty members were happy with the event's early successes. However, they knew it presented an opportunity for an even richer applied learning experience.
"Our department isn't just production, it's studies and production as a unit," says Silva. "We knew we needed to add a conference component to the event."
Both the film screenings and the scholarly conference exclusively feature undergraduate work. There are other undergraduate film festivals - for example, Notre Dame's Midwest Undergraduate Film and Television Conference - but there wasn't a combination festival-conference, merging both academic paths. Silva's students were excited to create a space in the landscape where both filmmakers and scholars could study a block of work by their peers.
"The interaction was extremely intense, and they're all friends still," Silva says.
Film studies major and Visions assistant director Jacob Mertens '12 says the conference is his favorite part of Visions.
"It's like a performance," he says. Watching the presentation of critical work transcends writing and scholarship Mertens notes, adding, "I get to see the authors of these works breathing life into them."
In 2011, he spent time on the other side of the podium presenting a paper. This year, he submitted three abstracts. Evaluating his peers' work for inclusion in the conference has taught him how to write a winning abstract.
"You learn what to do and what not to do - you learn how to look at a great abstract and figure out what makes it so great, and you become cognizant of mistakes you have been overlooking in your own writing, because now you are looking through that critical lens," he says.
The Visions experiences have given Mertens the confidence and motivation to submit to other conferences, including those that publish mostly graduate-level work. His paper considering video games as art was accepted into the April 2012 Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association national conference.
One of the most fruitful and lasting effects of Visions is the interaction between Visions staff and visiting presenters. They work on films together, talk about scholarship and give each other a heads-up on opportunities for submitting papers and films. Watching these connections develop and strengthen made Silva want more.
"We want more students here, and we want more from all interactions, not just between Visions staff and presenters, but also other UNCW and visiting students, and even the larger community."
What Silva had in mind was a mix of social and professional networking opportunities. She took the problem to her students enrolled in the class responsible for managing Visions and asked them for a solution.
The students came up with the 1Hour/1Take video race. Teams competed to make the best one-minute video with an assigned prop and a FlipTM camera. Teams were made up of a Visions staff member, a visiting guest presenter, a UNCW student, a visitor from another school and a member of the public. They had one hour to develop an idea, rehearse a scene to run through it until it is achieved in one take. At the hour's end, all footage is turned in and screened.
Students designed the race to emulate the feeling that develops within a group of filmmakers over the course of a full-length project. According to the call for participants, "in such a fast-paced, creative and collective environment, people get to know each other quickly and deeply, forming some of their most profound creative relationships with the people they've met and worked with during production." The competition is more about community than quality, it's a high-energy way to have fun while getting to know other filmmakers.
During the planning stages, Eggleston and Mertens expressed excitement about the video race. Beyond the friendships and professional collaborations they hope to gain from it, they see the networking tool as a chance to spread the word about Visions. They want students to leave the conference feeling comfortable and celebrated and wanting to return, maybe even urging their peers to come. They want undergraduate film students from all over the world to see what Visions is doing.
"If I were not involved in Visions, and I heard about it - that undergrad students were doing what we're doing - I would be inspired," Eggleston says. She wants her peers to feel as confident and capable as graduate students and professionals.
Visions, she hopes, can help quiet the voice in young film students that says "I could never do that."
"You can do it," Eggleston assures, whether screening work for an international audience or creating the festival that has gathered that audience.
"We're doing it. It's not easy, but if you have the inspiration and the motivation, your goal is within reach."