Reality Bytes Independent Student Film Festival to be held in person


Hunter Weston

The students in the Film Festival Administration class pose with Reality Bytes shirts (Courtesy of Hunter Weston)

DeKALB After three years of being trapped online, the Reality Bytes Independent Student Film Festival will return to Cole Hall for an in-person event at 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday. 20 films will be competing for top prizes over the course of two nights, all of them made by students. 

Founded in 2001 by Laura Vazquez, a communications professor and the media studies undergraduate program director, Reality Bytes showcases student short films from all over the world at the high school and collegiate levels, according to the festival’s website. Five years ago, the Festival began to be administered by a communications course, Film Festival Administration. Before then, student volunteers brought the festival together. 

“There were no festivals for just student films,” Vazquez said. “So what would happen was students would put films up against professional films in fests (festivals) and they would always lose. There was no way they could win, they didn’t have the money, their production values weren’t as good, their plots were not as well structured, the competition was too stiff. So now it’s more even, you only compete at your level.” 

Out of over 80 films submitted, only 20 were selected, according to a Reality Bytes press release. These films span a variety of forms and genres including narrative, documentary and animation. The chosen films will be selected for awards by a panel of judges, usually alumni and faculty. 

There will be cash prizes awarded to winners of each category: Best Narrative Short, Best Documentary Short, Best High School Short and Best Animation Short. For the Best Narrative and Documentary films there will be a $300 award. For Best High School and Best Animation there will be a $100 award, according to the festival’s website.

“There’s definitely some films that are more sentimental and some that are lighthearted,” said Collin Fields, a sophomore kinesiology major who created the trailers for Reality Bytes. “Overall there’s going to be some really good films to come out and watch.”

The festival will be open to the general public and students are encouraged to attend. Besides the two in-person nights, films that didn’t make the cut but the class wants to be screened will be shown on Vimeo on Thursday. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 and 2021 festivals were moved online to Vimeo, but this year’s festival promises to be better than ever. 

“We’re excited to have students return and to see all of these films,” said Arianna Moore, a senior majoring in communications who was part of Reality Bytes’ film review committee.

The festival is administered every year by the class Film Festival Administration. In the class, students learn about creating Reality Bytes from the ground up. The class also instills in NIU’s student filmmakers just how challenging it can be to get their work screened before an audience. 

“It’s also important for students to realize, films just don’t automatically get distribution,” Vazquez said. “The life cycle of a film is to go through a festival, come out of a festival, hopefully attract attention, get distribution. If there were no festivals, you would never have distribution. How would your film get noticed? Create a film then go right to Netflix? No, not gonna happen. I thought that was an important lesson for students.”

Students also learn about other film festivals, such as Cannes, South by Southwest and Sundance, and the power they have to give filmmakers recognition. 

“I hope that (attendees) gain appreciation for student-made films,” said Destinee Russell, a senior majoring in communications in charge of screening the films. “It can be hard to make student (filmmakers) known and trying to get budgets, crew and everything. So it’s fun to see how all these students from around the world have made all these films.”

After months of preparation, the festival not only promises to yield quality films but also good experience for the students that organized Reality Bytes.

“I wanted to join due to the experience in a lot of other (communications) classes, but this is being able to see the other side of it,” Moore said. “It’s giving filmmakers the platform to be seen and I get to judge what is shown during the actual event.”

With in-person events returning to NIU, Reality Bytes is hoped to be a big, cinematic gathering which brings students together through a love of film. 

“Socializing and gaining an appreciation of cinema from around the world is a plus to the event as well as an opportunity to watch untold stories about people from other cultures,” Vazquez said.