If you were in Exley on the evening of Wednesday, April 30, you might have seen bright blue banners, smelled the salty aroma of fresh popcorn, and heard the loud chatter of dozens of students ready to show their work to their peers. This was the finale of Campus MovieFest, a weeklong filmmaking competition in which groups of students wrote, directed, and edited short films with maximum runtimes of five minutes. With over 30 groups and over 500 students participating, there was much to be excited about.
“It was fun to see people’s excitement over what was going on because we had the red carpet, and people were taking pictures, and popcorn was given out, so that brought people to the finale,” said Danielle Pruitt ’15, who, as a part of Wesleyan Women in Film, helped to reach out to and bring Campus MovieFest to Wesleyan.
At the event, the top 16 films were screened, as well as highlights from the other films. Prizes were given to Best Actor, Actress, Comedy, Drama, and Picture, as well as awards for directing and cinematography. The Best Actor award went to Will Stewart ’17 for his role in “Antgirl 2: Crawling In Love,” a trailer for a hilarious romantic comedy in which the male lead falls in love with a woman who is part ant. That film was co-directed by freshmen Allison Cronan and Kiley Rossetter.
Best Actress went to Lauren Burke ’16, who starred in “Dressed,” which she co-wrote and directed with Ani Acopian ’16. The film used its light, upbeat subject matter to explore issues of body image and confidence.
“It’s about getting dressed but also about the internal struggles about your body and yourself and what you’re going to be doing when you’re getting dressed,” Burke said.
Best Comedy, as well as Best Direction, went to “Party Shot,” which consisted of one four-minute tracking shot following partiers down Fountain Avenue. “Party Shot” was directed by seniors Spencer Burnham, Elijah Cone, Peter Cramer, and Peter Conforti. The film grew out of one small idea: the intricately choreographed flash mob number that closed the film.
“[Cone] proposed the idea to have a disco, ‘Saturday Night Fever’-style synchronized dance,” Burnham said.
Best Drama went to “Janitor,” directed by Nikki Dodd ’15, which profiled the recent issues surrounding hours and wages of custodial staff. Dodd interviewed custodial staff as well as members of USLAC (United Student Labor Action Coalition). She was inspired by the opportunity to create a dialogue and connection between students and University staff.
“The idea for the documentary kind of sprang up around bridging the language gap and having a conversation with people who work in this university and spend just as much time here as I do, basically,” Dodd said.
Last but not least, Best Picture went to “Hush,” which was directed by Zhou Yeran ’15 and also won Best Cinematography. The film, which followed an expecting mother exploring her fears, was partially inspired by work that Yeran did in writing classes and over the summer.
“The script came together when I took a screenwriting class over the summer at Wes with Steve Collins, and everybody walked away with a 12-page screenplay,” Yeran said. “Later on, we worked on it a little more, and when this opportunity came out, I just kind of chopped off parts of it and adapted it into a five-minute screenplay.”
The winning films for Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Comedy, Best Drama, and Best Picture will all be competing in a nation-wide competition in Hollywood amongst other participating schools. The Best Picture winner, in addition, will go to the Cannes Film Festival as part of a Campus Movie Festival booth.
Though the end result was a celebration of rapid collective campus moviemaking, the week beforehand was anything but congratulatory. On April 22, students picked up a camera, a tripod, and a laptop pre-loaded with editing software provided by Campus MovieFest. From there, students gathered crew members as fast as they could.
“[Rebecca Wyzan ’15], she got us a dog on time…everybody was cast last minute, [Michelle Agresti ’14] was cast like two days before the shoot started, and just very luckily the schedule worked out,” Yeran said.
Though the spirit of collaboration was there, exhausted students worked long hours, shooting well into the nights and editing up until the last minute, when movies were due at 6 p.m. on Monday, April 28.
“I actually fell asleep at 7 p.m., and then I woke up at 8 the next morning because I had class to go the day we submitted, but I fell asleep so early,” Burke said. “[Acopian] fell asleep really early. We’re still tired from it.”
For others, like “Party Shot,” the difficulty came in choreographing their end result rather than the hours it took to make it. Burnham, Cone, Conforti, and Cramer had to cheat the space of Fountain Avenue and deceive the viewer by reusing actors in multiple roles.
“It looks like it’s a lot more people than it is because it’s the same people in every house just running, the camera running on one…and the people just running on the other side of the houses, pretending to be the different partiers,” Cramer said.
Pruitt was excited by student enthusiasm, even after the event had ended.
“Even after they left, I still see people posting their videos online, people are still talking about it,” Pruitt said. “I’m really excited that people were excited to create and get involved.”
And, should the event come next year, Yeran encouraged students not to make their movie simply as part of the competition.
“Don’t make the movie for this festival,” Yeran said. “Make the movie you want to make.”