Documentaries, mockumentaries, animation and stop-motion all occupied the screen at the Varsity Theater on Tuesday night. The Southern Oregon Student Film Festival showcased 21 films, out of the 42 submitted, that were entirely student produced. Sympathetic sighs and audible laughter throughout the room of the downtown arthouse theater signified that the audience rode an emotional rollercoaster with hoots that spawned from awkward shorts to pin drop silence that stung, as the crowd watched a woman be coerced to just “undo a few more buttons,” through a camcorder lens.
Whether the run time was 30 seconds or 15 minutes, every piece evoked audience emotion.
During the two hours broken up only by interludes and one intermission, young filmmakers got a chance to see their works of art played on the big screen and in front of a crowd. The event was put on by Andrew Gay’s Comm 399 class, Film festival production and programming. In cahoots with the SOU film club, of which Gay is also the advisor, the evening was fueled by months of student preparation and organization.
“Last year I was so nervous,” said one of the program organizers, Chloe Welch. The senior who is graduating with high accolades in the communication department, helped put on the event last year as her capstone project. She praised the teamwork of the film club and the Comm class, “Everyone was split into teams and worked together to make tonight great.”
The student film festival mirrors the town in which it’s located. Ashland has been a growing hotspot for professional filmmaking. It’s been consistently voted in the top five towns to live in and work as a filmmaker by Moviemaker magazine and has been a backdrop to a number of commercials and feature films alike.
Gay, an independent filmmaker and second year professor at SOU, hopes to connect the ambitious students with the Rogue Valley’s growing niche in the movie business.
“When I came here, I found that there were many talented students and there needed to be a community for them to connect and be involved,” Gay said at the end of the night. There’s been multiple attempts at creating film clubs at SOU but all have fizzled out until now. The professor believes that a sustainable and competitive group is what’s important for film culture to keep advancing, “We want people to look at the films and appreciate their peers, but think, I can do better.”
Just like top tier festivals, directly following the viewing of the films, all the directors were asked to come to the front of the theater for the audience to ask questions about their productions. Timid and well-dressed, the young film-makers filed to the front and passed around the microphone to explain where their sense of direction came from creating the visual art.
Following the event was an awards ceremony and refreshments just down the road at the Ashland Elks lodge. In the second story building, students, faculty, and community members alike were invited to commingle and discuss which films were their favorite over nachos and coffee.
Also, at the afterparty was a guest of honor, Tim Williams. The executive director of the Oregon Governor’s Office of Film & Television spoke to the students and praised their work that was displayed earlier in the evening. In a nutshell, the job entails bringing film projects into the state and overseeing their production. Williams gave his approval of the developing scene in Southern Oregon. “What’s going on here is fantastic,” he said, “it echos the diversity that’s going around the state in the film industry.”
Awards were handed out for best documentary short, best narrative short and audience choice award. Also, this was the inaugural year for the Jimmy Dix Award, an award that commemorates the life of the actor in Mig Windows film, Not a bench. Dix was an SOU student involved with acting before passing away from illness in 2015. His final performance was praised by the crowd as Not A Bench took home the audience choice award. Windows posted a picture of the trophy on the deceased actors Facebook wall later that night with the caption, “Look dude we won!!”
After awards were all received and the speeches were made, the evening began to come to a close. The attendance at this year’s festival was nearly double that of last and viewers spectated that the level of production was raised as well. With the student film club sustaining more members and creating a competitive, but supportive, culture there’s no telling how great festivals in the future will be.