VISIONS Film Festival & Conference
Lumina Theater • UNCW Campus
Friday, April 1 • 9 a.m.
VISIONS is a pioneer film festival. In its fifth year celebrating the works of talented undergraduate students, it hosts international films, including selections from Europe and Australia, as well as those made from UNCW graduate filmmakers. To top if off, it is run entirely by UNCW students.
What began as a directed independent study (DIS), born from professor Shannon Silva’s idea to create a course that allowed students to plan their own annual festival, grew into something much more important. Silva knew young undergrads would be nervous about entering their works to compete with more experienced filmmakers.
“Even student film festivals often program graduate work which can have more funding and applied experience than many undergraduates have access to at this time in their lives,” Silva explains.
Thus, she asked UNCW’s Department of Film Studies to offer the course. Silva says the university is very supportive of hands-on learning experiences, and so the class was welcomed by the department. In the beginning, VISIONS programs screened on the opening day of Cucalorus, Wilmington’s independent film festival. It has since gained enough of a following to become a stand-alone event.
“As the DIS established itself and support for VISIONS grew,” Silva explains, “I was able to pitch the idea to faculty that the event could be an international festival and conference that celebrated undergraduate film studies and was a truly wonderful representation of all that we strive for with our program.”
This year VISIONS is not only the first international undergraduate film festival but also introduces a scholar conference in which students will present research papers on varying topics. All of the presentations were hand-selected by undergraduates within the VISIONS course. UNCW student Jacob Mertens will present his analysis of famed director Michael Snow.
“I had a class, History of Avant-Garde Cinema, and we watched one of Snow’s films, ‘Wavelength,’” Mertens explains. “My professor said it was basically a 45-minute zoom from one end to the other. I thought I was going to hate it, but by the end I was leaning forward in my seat. I was completely enthralled.”
Mertens’ strong reaction captivated his interest to further explore Snow’s work. After watching “SSHTOORTY,” as recommended by his professor, Mertens realized a love for avant-garde cinema. He knew he wanted to help others expand their cinematic horizons, too. “In comparison to narrative cinema, avant-garde is not covered a lot in film criticism,” he says. “But it’s just as rewarding a viewing experience.”
The scholar conference will be broken into two segments. The first begins at 10 a.m. and showcases five presentations, including Mertens’, while the second features four speakers and starts at 1:30 p.m. The film blocks are also divided in two. The first is set for 6:30 p.m., and the second follows at 8:30 p.m. Both segments will contain adult themes.
A highly entertaining and surprisingly enlightening film by Joselyn McDonald will be screened in the first block. Having studied film at UNCW, McDonald strove to approach her film vastly different. As other students presented concepts for their senior documentaries, all the films sounded similar. As her time to pitch an idea drew near, she remembered a leisurely conversation with friends. “We were discussing obscure art forms, like train graffiti,” she shares. She then discovered a kind of art that had never been considered: bathroom graffiti.
“I saw a poignant poem, something about a boy,” McDonald remembers. “I realized these anonymous artists are doing it all by themselves and not for money. It was just weird enough to do.”
McDonald’s friends grew used to the director excusing herself to go to take pictures, and as her film developed, she had a personal revelation. “Everyone has seen terrible times, and they get better,” she says. “That’s human existence. Knowing this anchored me in feeling it will all be okay.”
Fifteen other student-made films will be shown during the festival, which takes place at Lumina Theater. All presentations and screenings are free and open to the public, starting at 9 a.m., with a speech from student Academy Award-winning filmmaker Isaiah “Izzy” Powers. In his keynote address, Powers will divulge his experiences as an undergraduate filmmaker and his steps to acquiring success. Following his address will be a screening of the acclaimed animation “Dried Up,” which Powers co-directed.
Professor Silva is excited for the festival and provided advice to students as they reached out to almost 300 schools around the world. She credits the young filmmakers for its success.
“I supervise and guide, but the leadership and work really comes from these 16 students. They have put their hearts and souls into making this the most exciting festival they can imagine. I’m blown away by what they’ve created. The program blocks are fun, thought-provoking, and controversial. I’m terribly proud of all they’ve accomplished this year.”