On Saturday, the students headed to the Spurlock Museum’s Knight Auditorium — a large hall that looked more like a movie theater than a lecture hall or performance space. The smell of popcorn lingered in the air of the room.
After a two-year stay virtual solely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the UIUC Student Film Festival has returned for its first in-person edition since 2019.
The one-day event is organized as part of MACS 464: Film Festivals. The class, which focuses on the history and importance of film festivals to the film industry, culminates with the production of the student film festival. The students in the class serve as organizers, judges, and sponsors for the festival.
John Knipp, a professor at MACS 464, said the film festival lineup represented a wide range of student filmmakers from the University.
“We have a huge cross section of films,” Knipp said. “Diverse filmmakers, diverse content. . . it is important that the university has a platform where student filmmakers can share their work with the rest of campus.
Although the majority of films screened at the festival were created by media and film studies students, a number were also produced by non-MACS majors, according to Knipp.
“One of the great things I’ve discovered about this campus is that there are filmmakers in a number of different disciplines around campus,” Knipp said. “So we have engineering students, we have fine arts majors, and we have a film from an acting major.”
Nineteen short films – ranging from less than one minute to over twenty minutes – were screened in two programs. Films ranged in genre as well as length, from comedies and dramas to horrors and music videos.
Additionally, the festival has accepted TikToks as part of the program. This highlighted a new medium that is still finding its place within the film community.
Between the two programs, there was a brief intermission followed by a panel discussion with three student filmmakers whose films were screened at the festival.
Joanna Raimo, senior in Media, was one of the student filmmakers on the panel. Raimo said she was ready for the amount of work her festival presentation would require.
“I’ve been a student at MACS since my freshman year, so I’ve been making films for a long time, and I thought I would know how much work and time it would take,” Raimo said.
Raimo’s film, “Tint of Red,” which she co-wrote and co-directed with Gio Giles-Sanchez, is a psychological horror short that follows an art student whose recent inspiration comes from a dark and horrible source. During the panel, Raimo said the film was her first time working in the horror genre.
“I’m really inspired by how dramatic horror is,” Raimo said. “The lighting, the effects and the acting – I think that’s what draws me to horror, being able to be drawn in and not being able to look away. That’s what I wanted to try, and I wanted to try something new.
Raimo said that making his film took a lot of trial and error, but ultimately was a great learning experience.
“When you’re in charge, it’s a different ball game, and I learned a ton,” Raimo said. “I think you learn from your mistakes and when you have a bad day on set you figure out how not to do it again, and when you have a good day on set you figure out what went well.”
Raimo and Giles-Sanchez’s film resonated with audiences as they responded vocally to every twist and moment on screen. FAA freshman Patrick Jackson starred in Raimo’s film as Gordon, the protagonist’s therapist who doesn’t have the most ethical relationship with his patient.
Jackson said there were challenges associated with playing an unlikable character, but he was pleased with audience reactions to his character’s moments.
“My character is supposed to be a really crummy dude, and it was a little uncomfortable playing someone like that at times, but I still had fun with the production,” Jackson said. “It was good to know that my work was well received and the parts where I was supposed to be lousy, the audience shrunk and didn’t like me.”
Other notable films include Lincoln Rodger’s “The Goji Project,” a sci-fi short about a young computer programmer who devised a way to simulate reality, and Michael Leshock’s “Bodies of Water,” a short horror footage about a post-burial conversation gone dramatically wrong. .
Among the TikToks screened on the program was a compilation by Ryan Leshock popular series “what song are you listening to”as well as an original Leshock-produced short titled “Loop”.
All films screened at the festival are available for live streaming on the festival’s YouTube channel. Vote for the festival prizes remains open to all students, who can vote in three categories – the People’s Choice Award for Best Overall Film, the TikTok Award for Best TikTok, and the Worldbuilding Award for Best Social Justice-Themed Film.