The Penn Student Film Festival has been around as long as the cinema studies major itself. It’s a fairly straightforward process, as frequent festival–goer Ann Molin (C ‘16) puts it: “The whole system is pretty simple. Submit a movie on time, and you’re in the festival.” There’s a time limitation—no movie can be longer than eight minutes—but otherwise students have free reign over the content in their films.
Professor Nicola Gentili, assistant director of the Penn Cinema Studies Department and the de facto person–in–charge for the festival, says they see terrific genre variety. “Documentaries are very popular. I think it’s easy for students to document something about their own experience. There’s a lot of parody about Penn symbols, as well.”
Each year, about 30–40 movies spanning these genres and more are submitted. The time restriction was created to screen all of these films in the Festival’s three day time span. While it can be difficult for some students to adhere to it, Ivan Moutinho (C ‘15), sees value in the constraint. “It gives us experience on how to shorten our work and get to the point—it can be really valuable for editors and filmmakers alike.”
There are two preliminary screening nights for the festival, where finalists are chosen for the third night of the festival. That night, 9–12 films are shown and 3 winners are chosen ($500 for first place, $250 for second place, $150 for thirdplace), as well as an audience favorite which merits a $100 prize. The selection process involves juries of cinema studies professors, students and a filmmaking expert during the preliminary nights. The jury on the final night is mostly comprised of film studies professors, but student judges get to choose the audience favorite.
The festival, which started on Tuesday, has taken place in various college houses, is organized by the Cinema Studies Department in collaboration with video production professors. Any student can submit, but many of the submissions come from cinema studies and fine arts majors who have been enrolled in video production classes.
Ivan Moutinho and Ann Molin are two of these students and are both very involved in the filmmaking communities at Penn. Ivan’s movie Imagined Warfare won first prize at the festival last year, and Ann is submitting for the first time this year after having attended the film festival for the last two years. Ivan, who is a communications major and a cinema studies minor, is ultimately most interested in the editing part of the filmmaking process.
Ann, on the other hand, has her heart in writing and directing. Her submission this year, titled Snacks, was part of a project with a friend where they had different directors use the same script to make a movie. The version she directed will be the one submitted. The festival itself, according to Ivan, seems to look for films that have the most effort put into them, in either the film's directing or editing.
For students, the festival provides an opportunity to show their movies to the world, at a pre–professional university where emphasis on actual filmmaking can be hard to find. The festival has loyal turnout each year, from students in Penn’s Bent Button Society (the undergraduate filmmaking club) to college houses coeds who love movies, to really anyone who can wrangle a movie together.
The audiences each year are very responsive. According to Ivan, “For us to grow as filmmakers, you need that feedback. To just learn from it and get better at it.” It’s part of a natural conversation at the screenings to give feedback to the filmmakers. And the screenings provide a relaxed environment.
“People hang out. There’s usually food and stuff. While the judges talk, everybody sgets into their little groups beccause everybody brings their friends for the verdict,” Ann says.
The Penn Student Film Festival attempts to fill the void where the Cinema Studies department falls short. “We teach film as a text, so we understand the urge, the desire to make your own movies,” Professor Gentili says on the subject. Ivan also sees where the film festival steps up, “To make a good movie, you have to make a lot of bad ones, and the Penn Film Festival is a great chance to try.”