Students represent Dartmouth at '06 Ivy Film Festival

by Matt Hill | 4/11/06 5:00am

The Ivy Film Festival, founded by Brown University students David Peck and Justin Slosky in December 2001, began as a collaborative effort between the organizers, the Brown University Modern Culture and Media Department, the Brown Film Society and students at other Ivy League schools. In its inaugural year, the festival featured such speakers as Oliver Stone, writer/director of the Oscar-winning "Platoon" and "Born on the Fourth of July," and Henry Bean, writer of "Internal Affairs" and the recent "Basic Instinct 2."

The festival became an annual event as it attracted yet more attention, expanding into such new categories as international student films and original screenplays. Hollywood giants such as Tim Robbins, Wes Craven, Adrien Brody and Julia Stiles as well as lesser-known personalities in the film industry -- writer John Hamburg ("Meet the Parents") and cinematographer Ellen Kuras ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind") -- have attended the festival in recent years, offering guidance and encouragement to the young aspiring filmmakers and, in some cases, giving private student workshops.

This year's festival, which was held from April 5 to 9, showcased advance screenings of the upcoming films "Take the Lead" and "Brick," in addition to a wealth of diverse and provocative works by students from schools across the country. Friday night of the festival also featured a speech by Michael Showalter, the founding member of the three-man comedy troupe "Stella," which currently has its own show on Comedy Central.

Dartmouth was among the schools represented at this year's festival, which accepted submissions not only from Ivy League institutions but also from the London Film School, New York University, the University of Chicago, UC Berkeley, USC and others such institutions.

"The films on the whole demonstrated technical achievement and pretension in equal doses, but were mostly lacking in solid dramatic construction," said Tyson Kubota '07. At the festival, Kubota screened his experimental work, "End Vision" -- a seven-minute short, with the tagline "the camera is the deadliest weapon," about a man held prisoner by many layers of photographic illusion.

"I didn't submit anything, but it was still a good experience," said Max Bentovim '08, a Film and Television Studies major who also attended the festival this past weekend. Bentovim corroborated Kubota's critique of the films shown, saying that "a lot of the student films had pretty impressive production values, but were all style and no substance." Still, he admitted, "There were definitely a few standouts."

Among those that Bentovim mentioned as notable were Kubota's "End Vision;" "Crispy Bacon," a techno-driven photo montage by France's Olivier Farmachi; "Night Swimming," a short film chronicling a teenage punk's sexual awakening that earned Best Drama and Best Director prizes for Columbia's Daniel Falcone; and "O es-tu, Waldo?," described by Bentovim as a "bizarre French New Wave-esque re-imagining of 'Where's Waldo,' where Waldo is a heroin-addicted outcast and loner."

Competing in the screenplay category was Nathan Ruegger '06, who submitted the feature-length script, "Searching for Spielberg," that he wrote in professor Bill Phillips' Screenwriting I and II classes. "The screenplay centers on an angry teenage actor who dreams of having a happy family," Ruegger said. "But when his abusive parents try to send him to military school, he runs away to Hollywood with his brothers -- a cocky filmmaker and a clairvoyant bookworm."

Ruegger, who will attend film school next year at the University of Southern California, went on to explain that the three brothers, aided by a beautiful assistant and hunted by a psychotic truant agent, must risk everything in order to get one audition with famed filmmaker Steven Spielberg before the young actor's imminent death.

Bentovim added that while not all of the seminars were overly involving, one of the highlights of the festival was the discussion held with Jim Stark, who produced many of independent filmmaker Jim Jarmusch's films.

"It was fascinating to hear how he produces and distributes sweet, artsy movies dirt cheap," Bentovim mused.

In addition to the student work on display at this year's festival, advance screenings were shown of films selected from this year's Sundance Film Festival and last year's Toronto Film Festival, including -- in addition to "Take the Lead" and "Brick" -- "Black Gold," a study of black bean harvesters living in near-starvation; "Kinky Boots;" "Half Nelson;" and "Iraq in Fragments," an examination of religion and ethnicity in post-war Iraq.

In the past six years, the Ivy Film Festival has grown to become a high-quality venue for undergraduate film work as well as a great opportunity to learn from fellow cinephiles and renowned professionals.

In having their work judged by celebrity panels including directors, producers, writers and agents, students are able to subject themselves and their passions to qualified criticism that, hopefully, will inform and encourage their future work.

"For me, the best part wasn't the films as much as understanding all the talent and hard work that went into them," Bentovim said. "It's like seeing pure potential on display, which is very reassuring, because these are people who are capable of making great films, and they have so much energy and ambition. It makes me want to keep watching movies."

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