Film festivals offer venue for student work

By Richard Pulfer

With lower box office revenues across the board, the importance of ticket sales and the bottom dollar sometimes seem to outweigh the creative aspects of the work itself.

The solution is scattered throughout the world in the form of film festivals large and small offering a larger venue for independent and student works, NIU communication professor Jeffrey Chown said.

“The film industry uses film festivals as [a] marketing platform,” Chown said. “It serves [as] a barometer for hype as well as marketing.”

Communication assistant professor Laura Vazquez said she believes film festivals hold even greater importance for students.

“I think they’re critical because they are one of the only venues for the students to get their work publicly shown,” Vazquez said

Vazquez also organizes the annual documentary film festival called “Reality Bytes.”

“The festivals are a learning tool,” Vazquez said. “Because the students can watch people react [and] to see what works and what doesn’t work. This helps students better understand the master paradigm of film.”

For Chown, the appeal of film festivals benefits both audience members and communities hosting the event.

“[At film festivals], the directors are usually in attendance, so you get sort of an insider feel to watching the film. Then you might go to a pub and find yourself sitting next to Denis Leary,” Chown said. “I’ve seen the communities who put on the film festivals use the revenues to boast their entertainment, such as putting the money toward fixing up an old theater.”

Sometimes students offer up something unique.

“Student work is the freshest thing,” Vazquez said. “It’s out there; it’s risky and energetic.”

Student filmmaker Michael Gentile garnered several awards for his documentary “Killing in the Name Of?” at film festivals across the country, and has found his experiences at festivals to be well worth the entry fee.

“For that fee, you are guaranteed screening [after acceptance into the film festival], and whether or not you place at the festival, your project is being viewed by a far larger audience,” Gentile said. “It’s fairly easy to submit a film to a festival. There’s usually a Web site that takes all the information and you receive a response in three weeks.”

Vazquez has seen the “Reality Bytes” film festival grow steadily over the years, and does not expect the excitement surrounding it to stop any time soon.

“I think we’re going to keep seeing an increase in both ‘Reality Bytes’ and film festivals in general,” Vazquez said. “I think as more video production programs are made available to the general public, the submission at festivals will continue to increase.”