That Time I… worked for the Reality Bytes Film Festival

A Reality Bytes Film Festival poster.

Courtesy of Patrick Murphy

A Reality Bytes Film Festival poster.

By Parker Otto, Columnist

As a film lover, I’m always looking for new stories to watch and take inspiration from as I pursue filmmaking. While I love going to the multiplex, or browsing my streaming services, there’s something truly special about seeing films made by students just like me. This past spring, I had the privilege of working for the Reality Bytes Independent Student Film Festival, which opened my eyes to a whole slew of unique films.

Founded in 2001, Reality Bytes showcases student films at the college and high school levels every April, according to the festival’s website. The entire festival is put together by students enrolled in COMS 475, Film Festival Administration, who are supervised by Laura Vazquez, a communications professor at NIU and  founder of Reality Bytes.

Just like in 2020, the 2021 Reality Bytes Film Festival had to take place online because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While my classmates and I never chatted face-to-face, our effective communication online made planning the festival much easier than anticipated. Our class meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays were full of jokes as we discussed all of the films submitted and why they should or shouldn’t be in the festival. 

The first few weeks of the semester were spent watching over 80 submissions and having to narrow it down to enough films we could showcase in three videos since the in-person festival normally was held over three nights. We ended up selecting 23 films across the four categories of narrative, documentary, animation and high school films which was easier said than done.

While I love films, having to watch so many over so little time was stressful, to say the least. But this gave me the opportunity to see many films and the future of filmmaking. I  was also filled with a bit of jealousy for how much talent these filmmakers had, especially those in high school, but I was constantly excited with each passing film to find out what stories I would see.

Other than watching and selecting films, each of my classmates was split into groups of two to handle different elements of the film festival. I worked as a film editor, with my main responsibilities being to take all of the films submitted, combine them into three videos and make sure that they were the same volume. 

As someone who’s attended Reality Bytes in-person, one of the best parts is seeing the students and professors who worked on the festival present the films. Since that wasn’t an option, I went to Cole Hall and shot short introductions for each night of the film festival. When the best films in all four categories were announced, my partner and I edited the awards ceremony using footage of communications professor Randy Caspersen presenting the awards. 

Being able to put together a film festival was an amazing experience because my classmates and I got to show films made by people my age. What makes film festivals so great is that they give people the chance to have their films seen on a large platform. It was incredible to be one of the people in charge of that platform.