The fourth annual Yale Student Film Festival took place last week at venues across campus, celebrating political activism in film with screenings of work by emerging university-level filmmakers from around the world.
Founded in 2015, the student-run festival aims to highlight the community of Yale filmmakers who create work outside of a traditional film school environment. The event also seeks to encourage conversation and camaraderie across schools and experiences.
“[Movies] can be an active agent in shaping political space,” said the Director of the YSFF Josh van Biema ’20, who added that the festival shows the way movies and media “can be in dialogue with politics in real time.”
The YSFF ran from Thursday to Saturday and consisted of student competitions in three separate categories — narrative, documentary and experimental film. It also showcased a series of work-in-progress films, so that students could receive valuable feedback while still in various post-production phases. The three-day long festival was studded with workshops and screenings with guest speakers.
The YSFF received around 1,200 student film submissions from around the world, and a committee of Yalies narrowed the selections to about 30 films.
“Only 10 percent of the films even make it through the first round,” said Filip Sestan ’20, director of selection committee. “We try not to favor films for production value. What we look for is innovation and films that try to push for something new.”
On opening night, the film festival featured an opening screening of “Broadcast News” at the Whitney Humanities Center, followed by a discussion with Wesley Morris ’97, a New York Times culture critic and co-host of the NYT podcast “Still Processing.”
Morris, an active Yale alumnus and former film critic for the News, said he is a “sucker for coming to New Haven and being at the University,” and he has “a lot of good feelings about Yale.” Morris, who discusses politics in media in his NYT podcast, said he enjoys coming back to a campus where “the students are smart” and grapple with important political topics like corruption in media.
For the festival, Morris chose to screen “Broadcast News,” a 1980s comedy-drama that offers audience members a first-hand look into the politics of the television news industry and the dysfunction that arises within it.
Van Biema lauded Morris’ selection, saying the film “adds diversity to the program.” He and Lily Weisberg ’21, the assistant director of the YSFF, both agree that this year’s theme is appropriate, particularly in the context of today’s political conversation.
“People are more involved in politics on campus since the Trump era [began],” van Biema said.
On Friday, programming included screenings of experimental and narrative shorts, as well as a panel discussion on the film “Rikers: An American Jail,” featuring filmmakers and law experts.
Over 50 people attended the narrative shorts screening at the Whitney Humanities Center, which featured 13 short films and a question-and-answer session with one of the directors. Most of the narrative shorts were not in English. The films covered themes such as drug abuse, sexual assault and poverty.
“There were a lot of really powerful, thought provoking films,” said Lucas Ferrer ’21, who attended the narrative shorts screening. “I came here because I’m interested in learning about student film on campus. It’s a niche community that not a lot of students know about.”
For Friday night’s panel discussion, YSFF teamed up with Yale Law School to show a documentary about Riker’s Island. The panel that spoke after the screening included Cadeem Gibbs, a former inmate at Rikers, and Judy Doctoroff, the executive producer of the documentary. Other members of the panel included law school faculty Miriam Gohara and Emily Bazelon ’93 LAW ’00.
On Saturday afternoon, filmmaker Linda Hoaglund ’79 taught a workshop titled “War and Memory in Post-War Japanese Cinema.”
Born and raised in Japan, Hoaglund has provided English subtitles for over 200 Japanese films including the works of Hayao Miyazaki. She has also produced and directed her own documentary films.
During the workshop, Hoaglund showed clips from various films made in Japan’s post-war era and discussed her film “ANPO,” a 2010 documentary that chronicles how artists protested the U.S. military presence in Japan during the 1960s.
The documentary includes photographs and paintings that depict the massive political demonstrations of the time. Hoaglund aimed to explore the idea of “the artist as a witness.”
“The question I wanted to ask with my film was ‘How is it possible to make art out of the experience of war?’” Hoaglund said.
She also spoke about her own past struggle with feelings of complicity as a 10-year-old American learning about the atomic bomb for the first time in a Japanese public school.
The film festival concluded on Saturday night with a screening of student documentary films.
“I am so excited for people to see how great student film can be,” Weisberg said. “Students make them with limited resources and on small budgets, but they can be so powerful.”
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