A giant lecture hall filled with laptop screens and the illumination of cellphones, as a professor’s words reverberate off the walls largely characterizes most people’s perception of a college class. Yet, the class that puts together the Visions Film Festival and Conference at UNCW stands apart from the rest.
The fourth annual festival, which will be held this Friday, April 4th, thrives due to the attention it affords the untapped market of the undergraduate student. Operated almost soley by undergrads, Visions is one of the only film festivals across the nation that hosts films and papers completed by students. Visions revels in the fact that it celebrates inexperience by giving novice cinema enthusiasts a platform to gain introductory insight into presenting work at a festival.
Shannon L. Silva—a filmmaker who took home the moniker for Best Local Independent Film for her documentary, “It’s a Girl Thing,” in last year’s encore reader’s poll—serves as the advising faculty member for Visions. She’s one of the few professors who truly understands her role in students’ lives—prepping them for the real world. And she takes it seriously.
Silva pitched the course to department heads when she was first hired by UNCW in 2006. “I was inspired by a similar course at Humboldt University, and I wanted our version to be a year-long class experience where students run the whole show,” Silva explains. “I’ve worked for film festivals and other nonprofit arts organizations since the early ‘90s. I have always loved the community energy that these sorts of projects bring out in people.”
The class began as a directed individual study. Silva would take four to six students and program a selection of screenings which would be shown at Wilmington’s Cucalorus Film Festival. The call for entries was limited to UNCW students; however, the class quickly showed promise and became its own entity.
Taking place at Lumina Theater in the Fisher Student Center on UNCW’s campus, a keynote address by Canadian film scholar Kiva Reardon will inaugurate the 2014 event. Having graduated with a master’s degree in film studies from the University of Toronto, Reardon now operates Cléo Journal, a quarterly online publication. Also an active member of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, Cléo focuses of feminist perspectives in film.
Visions then will take attendees through a block of scholarly presentations, wherein students from across the nation will showcase their work in film theory. With entries ranging from an exploration of the burgeoning police procedural drama to a paper that delves into the musical underpinnings in Orson Welles’ “The Lady From Shanghai,” the block boasts students from the University of Florida to the University of Michigan. Another afternoon conference block will include presentations from local students Tyler Davis, Dallis Frie Covey, and Caleb Andrew Ward, the winner of this year’s Best Local Independent Film, “Children of Salt,” in encore’s reader’s poll.
Two film blocks will course throughout the day. Among programming will be an international animated short, “Pandy.” Directed by Matúš Vizár, it hails from the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. Visions will also feature “Win or Lose,” a short documentary which chronicles the infamous Amendment One (which also screened at the Cucalorus last November). Joining the ranks will be two documentaries made by UNCW films students. Nathalie Forutnel will exhibit “A Reel Farewell,” which examines the demise of the use of celluloid film projection. Eliza Bryan will show “Marsh Woodwinds,” a film that profiles an eclectic instrument repair shop, and Whitney Polk’s “The Science of Cats” will premiere.
Visions’ charm comes in its prioritization of not only featuring the work of filmmakers and scholars but also ensuring the artists responsible participate in question-and-answer sessions and networking opportunities. “We want to foster relationships that go beyond our little niche here in Wilmington,” hospitality coordinator Zoe Vanderploeg states.
In order to fund this event, a successful Indiegogo campaign raised a little over $2,000 last year. As well, sponsors such as Blue Surf Cafe, Wide Open Technologies, Cucalorus, the Austin Film Festival, Freaker, Intellect, and Screen Gems provided donations to make Visions possible. “[Our sponsors donations] to Visions allow us to give travel and lodging stipends to visiting filmmakers and scholars who we select to come to our event,” budgeting director Jill Kaszubski details.
Once the filmmakers are here, Visions provides a number of opportunities for attendees and featured guests to congregate together. The one-hour-one-take video relay race groups participants in teams, and asks them to create a film that lasts one minute and is done in a single take. This year’s theme: “The [blank] is ticking.”
A dessert reception will be held Friday evening with an after-party at Bourgie Nights. Local band D&D Sluggars will play.
“‘A Starry Night’ was an inspiration [for the after-party], but I wanted to take that and put a romanticized, rustic, NC twist on it,”party-planner Ally Gold describes. “Manna and Bourgie Nights have been a huge help in making the after-party happen. We’ve [also] had large corporate sponsors, such as UNCW and Whole Foods, and local, solo business owners such as Emily Godsey, owner of Ego Amigo Dog Fashion and Accessories, help. Tim White, from D&D Sluggers, is an amazing talent and supporter of Visions and always brings a fun and electric-vibe to his shows.”
Awards will be given during the after-party, including, Best Narrative Film, Best Documentary, Best Animation, and Best Experimental. One filmmaker or scholar will be selected to receive the Visionary Award, representing a scholar who most exemplifies Visions’ mission. Audience choice awards will be dispensed to a filmmaker, scholar, and the winners of the one-hour-one-take contest. New this year will be an award to honors the late local filmmaker and social advocate of Working Films, Robert West.
Visions Film Festival and Conference
Friday, April 4th; Lumina Theater, UNCW Campus
Keynote Address, 9 a.m.
First Conference Block, 10:15 a.m.
Video Race, 12:00 p.m.
First Film Block, 3:15 p.m.
Second Conference Block, 5:15, p.m.
Dessert Reception, 8 p.m.
Second Film Block, 8:30 p.m.
After Party, 11 p.m.; Bourgie Nights, 123 Princess St.
All-access ticket: $15