On a beautiful Sunday in April, when the College Green teemed with sunbathers and Frisbee throwers, the real action took place in the dark. Literally. A crowd of aspiring filmmakers gathered in the modern culture and media department (MCM) for a cinematography workshop with three-time Sundance Award-winner Ellen Kuras '81 (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Blow, and Bamboozled). "Film is just a conduit," she told students. "What really matters is what you say with it."
Kuras was one of more than a dozen film professionals - including screenwriter and director John Hamburg '92 (Meet the Fockers and Along Came Polly) and Nina Jacobson '87, president of Buena Vista Motion Pictures - who came to Brown as judges and speakers at the Ivy Film Festival. The brainchild of David Peck and Justin Slosky, both class of '03, the annual festival provides a venue for student filmmakers to showcase their work and learn from industry veterans.
Initially limited to films by Ivy League students, the festival now takes entries from students worldwide. This year's 150 submissions came from as far away as Cuba and Wales, said Dan Murray '05, the festival's executive director.
From those 150 submissions, student organizers selected twenty-five films to be screened at the weekend-long festival, and professional filmmakers chose nine winners in categories ranging from best drama and comedy to best animation.
What made the winners stand out? "We got a lot of romantic comedies centered around dorm life," noted Jon Miller '05, who has helped organize the festival for the past four years. "If a film wasn't shot in a dorm room, and [it] explored subject matter that went beyond frat parties and finals, it had a better chance of getting noticed."
Films produced by Brown students faired particularly well this year. Michael Metzger '05 won the Director's Award for Scarlett Ribbons, a humorous short that he pieced together with footage from an aborted film project and interviews with the film's cast. A Bird in the Head, a black-and-white thriller produced by J.B. Herndon '04 and Celina Paiz '04, won the prize for Best Experimental / Animated film.
"Brown has always been strong in film theory," organizer Murray observed, noting that MCM's expanded space has allowed "better facilities and more classes for film production."
Undoubtedly, the growing popularity of the Ivy Film Festival is also an inspiration to would-be filmmakers at Brown. "It's such a rush to see something you've made on the big screen," Murray said. "You get to see people's reactions, hear when they're laughing, when they're silent. It's a little scary, but it's a buzz you'll never forget."