Tales of undocumented immigrants, the #MeToo movement, and a child affected by the opioid drug crisis took the top three awards at BU’s 39th annual Redstone Film Festival, held Friday, March 29. Reflecting a certain timeliness, each drew on current headlines for plot inspiration.
First place and best screenplay went to The Day Off, directed by Carter Zhao (COM’18), a film about two undocumented Chinese immigrants who take a vacation day to enjoy life. Taking second place was The Bartender, directed by Travis Newsad (COM’18), a drama examining bystanders’ responsibility in sexual assault cases. That film also won best cinematography, editing, and sound design. Snagging third place: The Badge, about a young boy dragged on a late-night drug run with his mom, directed by Derek Matar (CGS’16, COM’18). New this year, prizes were given to both the director and producer of winning films—in years past, only the director received a prize.
The first motion picture was shown in 1893, Geoff Poister, a College of Communication associate professor of television, said during the festival, noting that while that may seem a long time ago, the art form is still in its infancy. “There are so many classics out there that make us believe we’ve reached some kind of pinnacle, but the pinnacle is always moving,” he said. “And the ones who are moving it are the filmmakers we are seeing today… [They have a] willingness to take on topics that are difficult and not to sugarcoat them, to make us think, look at society, and learn from it.”
All of the works shown in the festival, which is sponsored by media mogul Sumner Redstone (Hon.’94), were originally created for a COM film, television, or video production class or as a graduate thesis project. This year’s finalists were chosen by a committee of production, screenwriting, and film-studies graduates, with a panel of six film industry professionals judging the finalists. Among the competition’s prizes were Canon cameras and accessories, Avid and ProTools software, and MacBook Pro computers.
The other festival finalists were senior Kate Rose Schnepf (COM), who directed Clean Record, about a police officer’s secret, which is broadcast inadvertently, and its effect on his family; senior Anton Saich (COM), whose film Late explores what happens to a young girl waiting to get picked up from soccer practice when a stranger arrives; and sophomore Emilio Subia (COM), director of the Paper Plane, about a shy, lonesome middle-schooler who gets pulled out of his mundane world when he tries to get a mysterious girl’s attention.
This year’s festival saw the introduction of a new award category, the Film and Television Studies Award for Innovative Scholarship, which recognizes outstanding research in the program. The inaugural awards went to MFA students Laura Brown (COM), who studies television’s place in American history, and Cecilia Pardo (COM), who researches television as an educative resource.
The winners of the Fleder-Rosenberg short screenplay contest, sponsored by screenwriters Gary Fleder (COM’85) and Scott Rosenberg (COM’85), were also announced at the festival. First prize of $1,500 went to grad student Robert E. Hoxie (COM) for Falling Waters, second prize of $1,000 was awarded to grad student Jacob White (COM) for Here and Now, and third prize of $750 was won by senior Adam DeAngelo (COM) for The Power of Termination.
First prize winner Zhao said he was inspired to create The Day Off by a friend living in the United States without legal status. “As an Asian immigrant myself, I struggle to speak for myself in many situations,” he said. “Many of our crew members shared the same experience. I know it is even harder for those people who live in the shadows without choices and hope.”
The Bartender was an especially powerful entrant, judging from audience reaction. Newsad said he was inspired to make the film after reading reports like Ronan Farrow’s New Yorker exposé that detailed Hollywood mega producer Harvey Weinstein’s years of alleged abuse and rapes. “When I was reading these articles, I didn’t feel like I could tell the story of a survivor because I’m not a woman and didn’t experience those things,” he said. “But what resonated with me were the bystanders in the situation, people who were peripheral, but complicit at the same time. I wanted to show what it was like to be one of these people on the outside—are they going to get involved, or are they not?”
This year’s festival marked the last under the leadership of Thomas Fiedler (COM’71), dean of COM since 2008, who is stepping down at the end of the semester. Paul Schneider, a COM professor of the practice of television and film and department chair, thanked Fiedler during the ceremony for his support over the last decade, adding that Fiedler had been instrumental in securing the sizable donation from Redstone that will allow the festival to continue for the next “50 years or so.”
The Redstones are a two-part festival and conclude in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 4. The finalist films from Boston compete again, this time judged by a West Coast panel of industry experts. The Los Angeles festival also includes a short competition for alumni.