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SAC students get their audience in 'crazy-good' film festival

BY ANDREW LAPIN
Senior Arts Editor
Published April 17, 2010

After almost a year of work, Josh Amir has a pretty good idea of what message he wants people to take from his film.

“What the essence of the film (is) about is doing something you actually care about doing, and not doing something because you’re making X amount of dollars, or because there are certain pressures, but actually finding what it is that means something to you and then just devoting your time to doing it,” said Amir, LSA senior.

Amir is talking about his Screen Arts & Cultures Honors thesis project, “The Saxophone Player,” an 18-minute short about an unemployed automotive worker in Detroit who finds solace in jazz music. But he might as well be talking about the mindset of the student filmmaker. The University’s SAC department is full of creative, ambitious talents just like Amir, all of whom devote countless hours in their production classes to crafting films that mean something to them.

This weekend, while the rest of campus frantically crams for its remaining finals, all of these SAC students will be crammed into the Natural Science Auditorium, jubilantly celebrating the fruits of their labors with the one thing all aspiring filmmakers crave: an audience.

The Lightworks Festival is a two-night event held at the end of every semester by Michigan’s Film and Video Student Association (FVSA) to give every student in an SAC production class the chance to share their work with friends, family and fellow craftspeople. LSA sophomore and FVSA co-president Barbara Twist plays the largest hand in its orchestration. The festival, which accepts submissions from SAC students only, received 77 entries this year in everything ranging from 16mm black-and-white films to animations to documentaries and sitcoms. And they’ll screen every single one.

“We don't bar anyone who's a student in a SAC production course from submitting their work. We also don't watch the work before it screens,” wrote LSA senior and current FVSA publicity chair Joel Arnold in an e-mail interview with the Daily.

“Sometimes, that can mean it's an amazing piece of work for an undergrad that shows great promise for their future artistic career," he added. "Sometimes, that means it's a badly written, poorly lit homage to Wes Anderson that grasps at something but falls short. But those can be joys to experience, too.”

LSA junior Bhanu Chundu is one of two students in SAC 423: Practicum for the Screenwriter who will be submitting a work to Lightworks. The 423 production class is unique in that it takes the first third of a script written by a student in the highest-level screenwriting class and films it as a stand-alone feature. Chundu’s film, “Camp Chapel,” is about a troublemaking teen who is sent to church camp and falls in love with the camp director’s daughter.

But with a total crew of 20 people working on the same project, including overlap from other SAC production classes, Chundu, who is also FVSA’s treasurer and will become the association’s co-president next year, is quick to shoot down the impression that all of the film is his.

“It’s not like, ‘I’m showing my work,’ ” he said. “It’s like, ‘We’re all showing our work.’ ”

This sense of camaraderie is the norm within the department, where many of the films that will be screened at Lightworks have behind-the-scenes crossovers with students from other classes. It’s a level of cooperation that the department often tries to promote, to better prepare students for the collaborative process of filmmaking that awaits them when they find jobs in the movie industry.

The goal of preparation extends into the motivation behind Lightworks, as well.

“(FVSA has) created Lightworks as sort of this avenue where people can understand sort of the benefit and the excitement associated with film festivals,” said Amir, who has screened other films at past Lightworks events.

“They have awards and they sort of structure the festival similar to other festivals.