Now in year eight, UNCW’s Visions Film Festival will feature a variety of films and speakers, as it takes place April 5 and 6. Students of film studies at UNCW have been working on the festival as part of their fall 2017 and spring 2018 semesters Film Studies 451 course: Film Festival & Conference Management.
The festival got its start in 2006 with the help of Professor Shannon Silva. Silva received her undergraduate degree in art from Texas State University and worked with the Austin Film Festival and Austin Cinemaker Co-op, an arts cooperative focused on Super 8 filmmaking. She continued her education at the University of Iowa, where she played a part in running the Iowa City Microcinema, which provided a venue for screening public work. When hired by UNCW, Silva had the opportunity to pitch new class ideas and chose to create one based on the operation of a film festival and conference. “Any environment I’ve ever been in,” Silva remembers, “I’ve gotten involved with film festivals in any way I can.”
Silva began the class as a directed-independent study, which took place in her apartment weekly with only four students. At the time, Visions only considered submissions from students within UNCW’s film studies department. The festival began on the first day of our local Cucalorus Festival and only screened selected films. Today Visions looks completely different but has the same values from which it was born.
The first change came in 2011, when Silva’s directed-independent study, became a class offered to students through UNCW over the course of both their fall and spring semesters. The second broadened the scope of submissions Visions received by putting out a call for them internationally rather than interdepartmentally. It began accepting scholarly work for presentation alongside films. Lastly, the festival now takes place over the course of two days and utilizes UNCW’s Lumina Theater to present many different events.
“I really feel as a filmmaker it is important to screen your work with other filmmakers and other peers,” Silva mentions. “No matter what sort of level you’re at.”
One of Visions’ priorities is giving UNCW students and graduates a spotlight for their own work. At Visions 8, five of the films presented are products of UNCW students. Many of its Visionary Panel are UNCW graduates. They show and talk about opportunities and possibilities of having a degree in film studies.
One UNCW graduate is 2018 keynote speaker Shaofu Zhang who graduated in 2006. While studying at the Academy of Art University for his masters in character animation, Zhang received the gold medal at the 38th Student Academy Awards for his short film, “Dragonboy.” Following graduation, Zhang began working as an animator for Walt Disney Animation on movies like “Big Hero 6,” “Zootopia” and “Moana.” Now, he is the CEO and founder of his own animation studio, TAIKO Studios. His team recently finished their debut short film, “One Small Step.”
Part of what makes Visions unique comes from the amount of student-driven work. One of the students who had the opportunity to work on the festival for two years is Hannah Hearn, a senior studying film, entrepreneurship and business development. She is the festival’s managing director for Visions 8.
“I’m really interested in anything that mixes film and business together,” Hearn explains. “I have been drawn to positions as an assistant director, producer and festival director. My goal is to find a job in film distribution, producing/production management or festival organization.”
Hearn oversees six different departments of the festival: development, hospitality, marketing, programming, and operations. She also makes sure projects stay on schedule, obtains sponsorships and partnerships, and leads professional development workshops for the staff. Previously, Hearn worked as hospitality director for Visions 7 and oversaw coordination of all guest services.
“It feels surreal at times,” she says, “because I never expected to be able to work at this high of a level on such a big project. It gives me a sense of pride in not only seeing [my]self grow but also seeing everyone in the staff grow. We are all lucky and grateful to be able to delve into an experience like this.”
One of the films featured at the festival is the popular animated short “In a Heartbeat,” about two young men struggling to follow their hearts, created by Beth David and Esteban Bravo. UNCW student Kyle Stanley opens the festival’s first film block with his work “Focus Patterns,” which he shot and hand-painted on Super 8.
The short documentary “Swipe” by UNCW student Chance Saller plays during the festival’s second film block and explores the world of credit-card addiction.
On top of the numerous films shown over the course of the festival’s two days, Visions also hosts an opening night mixer (6:30 p.m.) at Dig and Dive on April 5. Festival organizers also scheduled multiple receptions throughout at UNCW’s Sharky’s Game Room in the Fisher Student Center.