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Arts & Entertainment

Festivals as Launching Pads

For student filmmakers, Redstone is just the beginning

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Watch a clip from Detained, a film by Jenny Alexander that won prizes at Redstone East and Redstone West competitions in 2008. Photo by Peter Pereira (COM08)

Boston University rolls out its red carpet tomorrow for the annual Redstone Film Festival. Showcasing this year’s best student films, the festival provides exposure by presenting the aspiring filmmakers’ work to media professionals and winners receive cash prizes. Redstone winners and finalists over the past 25 years have developed successful careers in the film industry, among them directors Gary Fleder (COM’85) (Runaway Jury), Joe Roth (COM’70) (Christmas with the Cranks), Steven Brill (COM’84) (Little Nicky), and Lauren Ivy Chiong (COM’98) (Testament), producer Richard Gladstein (CGS’81, COM’83) (The Bourne Identity), and screenwriter Scott Rosenberg (COM’85) (Beautiful Girls).

But for student filmmakers launching careers, this festival is just the beginning.

“Continued exposure is important,” says Randy Steinberg, motion picture industry coordinator for the College of Communication department of film and television. “It helps filmmakers find internships, jobs, and funding for future projects.”

Steinberg (COM’98) helps students plan their work’s marketing strategy, and at times he sounds like a guidance counselor, advising aspiring filmmakers where to apply.

“Consider the level of the competition,” he says. “Pick one or two festivals from the top tier, like Sundance or Cannes, a couple from the second tier, such as South by Southwest and Telluride. Then focus heavily on third-tier and student-specific festivals, which are more realistic; students aren’t competing with as many industry professionals, and the fees are less.”

The good news, he says, is that despite a tough economy, “thousands of little film festivals are still operating, and they need to fill their programs with strong content.”

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Watch a clip from Just Like It Was, a film by Will Lautzenheiser (CAS’96, COM’07).

Will Lautzenheiser (CAS’96, COM’07) followed Steinberg’s advice to promote his graduate thesis film, Just Like It Was; he submitted to more than 20 festivals. Although passed over by the bulk of them, he nevertheless had great success; Just Like It Was screened at five festivals and won the CINE Golden Eagle Award, whose past recipients include Steven Spielberg (Hon.’09), Ken Burns, and Albert Maysles (GRS’53). Lautzenheiser also received a Joseph A. Lalli production grant, which covered more than half of his film’s budget.

He attributes the film’s several rejections mainly to genre and serious content: it explores a strained relationship that comes to a head during a road trip through a winter storm.

“It’s a good film,” he says, “but it’s not entertaining, so in some ways, a comedy might be easier to distribute.”

Steinberg recommends following instructions. “Don’t be gimmicky by including unnecessary materials,” he says. “Don’t give the selection committee a reason to dismiss your film.” Pointing to a stack of DVDs, he talks about presentation: “This one includes a printed title on the face, so it looks more professional and is easier to read than the handwritten ones.” He also recommends streamlining applications using Without a Box, a database connected to thousands of festivals worldwide, searchable by deadline, location, theme, and discounted entry fees.

With a limited budget, Steinberg can help defray submission fees for student films selected by faculty, but assisting with travel expenses is not an option. “Airfare and hotel accommodations add up,” he says. “Consider festivals within a day’s drive. Without spending a lot of money, you’ll still benefit by networking with producers and other filmmakers.”

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Watch a clip from Werewolf Trouble, a film by Charlie Anderson (COM’09) that took second place in the 2009 Redstone East competition.

Charlie Anderson (COM’09) screened his 2009 Redstone second place winner Werewolf Trouble in November at the Williamstown Film Festival (WFF), three hours from Boston.

“The moment I was accepted,” says Anderson, “I knew the WFF was different than the 11 others that screened my film.”

Rather than being notified by e-mail, he got a congratulatory phone call from WFF executive director Steve Lawson, who offered him lodging during the festival. “I thought he had confused me with one of WFF’s celebrity guests, like directors James Ivory (The Remains of the Day) and Barry Levinson (Wag the Dog),” Anderson says.

Being treated to free meals and cocktail parties made the experience special, but more important, he joined panel discussions with other filmmakers, including Academy Award–nominated animator Bill Plympton (Your Face).

Werewolf Trouble has now screened at 12 major film festivals, winning multiple awards.

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Watch the trailer for A Simple Taste, a film by Jac Woods (COM’08) that took second place in the 2009 Redstone West competition.

International travel is not out of the question. Jac Woods’ 2009 Redstone finalist A Simple Taste, a comedy about a note written in a coffee shop that goes astray and is misinterpreted, was one of two American films accepted at the Munich International Festival of Student Films in November 2009. Woods (COM’08) traveled to Germany free, courtesy of the festival committee.

The program included 60 student films from 27 countries. “It was very inspiring to see such creativity and to share ideas,” says Woods, who stayed with other filmmakers during the festival.

To increase exposure, Steinberg recommends using social media tools that reach beyond film festivals. The COM film and television department posts clips from student films and information about upcoming festivals and job opportunities on YouTube and Facebook.

A recent Facebook post includes a link to Openfilm.com, a resource Steinberg discovered while promoting BU student films in December at the International Film Festival Summit in Las Vegas. “Openfilm.com hosts premium videos,” he says, “and runs contests to fund future film projects.”

Jenny Alexander (COM’08) turned to schools, unions, nonprofit organizations, and the government to promote her film Detained, a documentary about undocumented immigrants from Latin America, Portugal, and Cape Verde who were arrested and detained following a raid on a New Bedford, Mass., factory. Detained took second place at the 2008 Redstone Festival.

“I released clips to the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy,” says Alexander. “They were shown at a congressional caucus to influence changes in how detainees are treated.”

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Watch a clip from Mind the Gap, a film by Kristal Williams-Rowley (COM’09) that took first place in the 2009 Redstone West competition.

A final piece of advice comes from Kristal Williams-Rowley (COM’09), whose film Mind the Gap, a 2009 Redstone finalist about family grief resulting from a train accident, screened at more than a dozen festivals and won the CINE Golden Eagle Award. “When you’re at a festival, be prepared to discuss your next project,” says Williams-Rowley. “If you don’t have one ready, you could miss opportunities for collaboration and funding.”

The Redstone Film Festival begins at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, February 10, at the Tsai PerformanceCenter, 685 Commonwealth Ave., and is free and open to the public. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and admission is first-come, first-served.

Robin Berghaus can be reached at berghaus@bu.edu.

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