Courtesy of YSFF

This Friday marks the first day of the Yale Student Film Festival, a student-run short film festival for university-level filmmakers from Yale and around the world. This year, the festival will feature virtual screenings of short films by Yalies and international student filmmakers as well as talks by professional screenwriters, actors and directors.

The Yale Student Film Festival, or YSFF, will take place on Dec. 4 and 5 over Zoom. The festival’s films are divided into four categories — documentary, experimental, narrative and works by Yale student filmmakers. Prizes will be awarded to a winner in all categories except the student work field, which will be decided by a panel of film critics, filmmakers and Yale alumni in related fields. Additionally, guest speakers will discuss their thoughts on the film industry with audience members during the festival.

“I actually am really excited about the virtual format because it makes [the festival] a lot more accessible to not only people within the Yale community, but people outside of the Yale community,” said Ryan Benson ’21, director of the festival. “I’m excited for my family members, Facebook friends, friends from high school and more to be able to tune into these events because they’re all free and they’re all open to the public.”

The film festival was initially scheduled to take place in March after spring break, but was canceled due to the pandemic. Benson said that Ayla Khan ’21, the festival’s associate director, approached her about holding the event this semester instead. As a result, Benson said a “small, amazing” planning team of five members — as opposed to around 15 — have been working to “make the festival happen.”

Benson noted that this year’s festival includes an “exciting lineup of speakers.” This is largely due to the festival’s virtual format, which allows speakers to partake in the event without traveling to Yale’s campus.

The festival will kick off with a conversation featuring writer and director Asim Abbasi, who will talk about his web series “Churails” and the creative process behind it. On Saturday, Moses Ingram DRA ’19, an actress on the Netflix series titled “The Queen’s Gambit,” will speak about her acting experiences. A conversation between Luka Kain and Alexia Garcia, actors in a show called “Saturday Church,” and Damon Cardasis, the show’s director and producer, is set to follow.

“I’m really happy that the festival can reach more people than ever this year,” said Sam Gallen ’23, the festival’s programming director. “In the past, it’s been specific to Yale’s campus, and that’s great because nothing beats seeing these short films on a big screen in a dark room, but one of the silver linings of having a virtual festival is that we can share these movies with people all over the United States and around the world.”

The festival was founded in 2015 as a collaboration between the Yale Film Alliance, the Yale Film Study Center, the Yale Film Studies Program, Films at the Whitney and the Yale College Dean’s Office. Its aim was to create a space for student filmmakers to tell stories and learn from each other.

“Being able to support other filmmakers is an important thing in the industry, so by extending the festival to other schools and people from different countries, we give them a space to tell their stories,” Marc Bertoni ’23, the event’s technical director, told the News.

To choose films for the festival, the selection committee sifted through hundreds of video submissions. The four separate film categories showcase a diverse range of work.

“They are all examples of students just making really cool films without always conforming to typical narrative expectations, so some of them are weird in the best way,” Gallen said.  

The experimental category includes live action and animated films, the documentary category includes investigative pieces and the narrative category includes scripted works with actors. In addition, many of the short films featured in the festival tackle important social and personal issues.

“We were looking for student films that seemed emotionally and narratively exciting and that really caught our attention,” Gallen said. “Usually those were films that told a really interesting story or were made in a way that we just hadn’t seen before.”

The first film screening will start at 4 p.m. on Friday.

Simisola Fagbemi |

Correction, Dec. 5: A previous version of this article stated that Gallen was the festival’s former programming director. Gallen is its current director, and the story has been updated accordingly.