‘Film as activism’: This week at the Yale Student Film Festival 2018

Experimental, narrative, and documentary films created at Yale and around the world will be featured April 12-14 at the Yale Student Film Festival.

Experimental, narrative, and documentary films created at Yale and around the world will be featured Thursday-Saturday, April 12-14 at the Yale Student Film Festival (YSFF).

The Yale Student Film Festival’s two main goals have always been to showcase the wealth of filmmaking that already exists at Yale and to make room for more filmmaking and discussions about film on campus,” said Josh van Biema ’20, the director of the fourth annual Yale Student Film Festival. Compared to drama, fine art, and music, he notes, film is “nascent” by comparison. Along with the Yale Film Society, the Yale Film Alliance, and Bulldog Productions, YSFF is nurturing filmmaking/appreciation on campus.

Founded in 2015, the festival began as a collaboration between the Yale Film Alliance — c. 2014, a student group that sees itself as the Yale Drama Coalition of student film — Yale Film Study Center, Yale Film Studies Program, Films at the Whitney, and the Yale College Dean’s Office.

Anna Rose Canzano ’18, last year’s YSFF director, said that when the festival started, it was “a public showcase for films from the Yale community and a master class in producing by Bruce Cohen ’83. Since then, the festival has expanded to accept submissions from students across the world, along with multiple workshops from alumni in the film industry, and screenings of alumni films.”

Under the leadership of van Biema and assistant festival director, Lily Weisberg ’21, this year the festival has grown significantly, receiving around 1100 student-made films from 95 countries. Of these, 31 will be screened in three categories – experimental, narrative, and documentary. To enter, filmmakers have to be “university-level,” which includes graduate and professional level students. Interestingly, said van Biema, YSFF received more foreign than domestic submissions this year. “I think the absence of a submission fee — which is really important to me, personally — plays a big part in that,” he said, “and the festival is also gaining more of a reputation each year.”

The festival’s fourth year will also be the first year it has a clear theme for its programming: film as activism. “Now more than ever, we think it is crucial to consider the ways that film — from contemporary documentaries like “RIKERS” to ’80s satires like “Broadcast News” — can not only comment on but also shape social and political space,” said van Biema, referring to three films that will be discussed during the festival. Weisberg added, “Since students are especially politically-engaged after the 2016 election, it seemed like a moment when people might be really receptive to political art.”

Over the three-day festival, there will five screening blocks — three for juried entries and two for Yale filmmakers, the Yale Filmmakers Block and Senior Thesis films. This year the judges, who are always established filmmakers or critics and Yale alums, are: Jim Landé, an independent film producer who has worked extensively with award-winning filmmaker Ira Sachs and is a lead producer of Sachs' latest feature, “Little Men”; Jeanine Kim, founder and artistic director of the Women & Fashion FilmFest, the Girls Film Festival, and SHE WebFest; and Brian Price, a screenwriter, screenwriting teacher, and independent director whose 2001 film “Bottomfeeders” won awards at the DC Independent Film Festival and the Planet Indie Film Festival in Toronto.

Slideshow: Official selections from the Yale Filmmaker’s Block

Two additional screenings and one workshop round out YSFF 2018. On opening night, April 12, join YSFF for an 8 p.m. screening of “Broadcast News” (directed by James L. Brooks) followed by a discussion with Wesley Morris ’97, the award-winning critic-at-large for The New York Times and co-host of the popular NYT podcast, “Still Processing.” Among the questions that will be discussed are “How do film and politics intersect?” and “Can a work of film be considered activism?” (Morris will also be on campus to give a College Tea titled, “Black Panther, #MeToo and being a cultural critic” at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, April 10 in Benjamin Franklin College.)

The next night, YSFF will cohost with the Yale Visual Law Project (YVLP) the screening and post-screening panel discussion “RIKERS: An American Jail” at 7:30 p.m. in Rm. 120 of the Yale Law School, 127 Wall St. Weisberg said that she and Emily Bazelon, senior research scholar at Yale Law and a faculty advisor of YVLP, “had discussed the idea of working together on an event centered around social and legal justice through film.” “RIKERS: An American Jail,” a new documentary by Bill Moyers, tells the harrowing stories of individuals who’ve endured incarceration at Rikers Island.

Finally, van Biema coordinated a seminar-style workshop with bilingual filmmaker Linda Hoaglund “focused on the intersection of art and politics in a Japanese context,” which will be held at the Center for Collaborative Arts and Media (CCAM), 149 York St.,  at 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 14.

Part of my thinking was that I didn't want the festival to be entirely America-centric in its exploration of our theme of activism,” said van Biema. “‘ANPO: Art X War,’ one of Hoaglund’s most acclaimed documentaries, addresses just this: It explores the dialogue between the series of mass protests against the Japan-United States Security Treaty (known in Japan as Anpo) that swept the nation in 1960 and the work of painters and photographers responding to these events in real time.” Hoaglund will show some clips from “ANPO” in the workshop will make the postwar films of Japanese directors who were in dialogue with the larger political turmoil of their time her primary focus, according to van Biema.

For the full calendar of events for YSFF 2018, visit its website. All screenings, unless otherwise specified, will be held in the theater of the Whitney Humanities Center, 53 Wall Street.

Van Biema, Weisberg, and the entire YSFF 2018 team expressed their appreciation to the following: all of this year's judges, speakers, panelists, and workshop leaders; the Yale Film Alliance; Kate Krier and the Yale College Dean’s Office for granting us the funds to make YSFF possible; Emily Bazelon and the Yale Visual Law Project for their help coordinating the “RIKERS event; the CCAM and the Whitney Humanities Center for offering the venues for this year’s festival; Derek Webster for connecting the team to alumni to lead the festival events; Anthony Sudol, Brian Meacham, and the Yale Film Studies Center for making the festival screenings possible; and Criterion Pictures, USA for their help securing public performance rights.”

For more information about film screenings at Yale, visit the Yale Film Society or Films at the Whitney websites; and to get involved in student filmmaking, connect with Bulldog Productions or the Center for Collaborative Arts and Media.

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