At the 13th annual Traverse City Film Festival, two short films created by University of Michigan undergraduates were showcased on the big screen. The five-day event featured a variety of films, workshops and discussions about filmmaking.
The two student productions, “Malignant Humor” and “Chasing the GOAT,” were developed throughout the semester by students in screenwriting program director Jim Burnstein’s and lecturer Robert Rayher’s Screenwriting 423 class and carried out with the help of fellow undergraduate writers, actors and producers.
Though his students provided the plot and stage direction, Burnstein said the productions required participation from across the University.
“Two teams are assembled out of (Screen Arts and Cultures), with our top filmmaking students,” he said. “Then we bring in from Stamps School of Design art designers, costume designers, sound designers, composers from the School of Music and even producers from Ross School of Business. So it’s the University-wide kind of collaboration.”
Burnstein worked with the LSA Department of Screen Arts and Cultures to establish a partnership with the Traverse City Film Festival that allows two University films to be showcased each year. Now in their ninth year of collaboration, Burstein said attendees at the festival continue to be impressed with the talent of the students.
“This all started when Michael Moore, who runs the Traverse City Film Festival, and festival director Deb Lake contacted me asking if I would do something up there at the festival — meaning talk about screenwriting as a professional screenwriter,” he said. “I agreed, but I said I would like to, in return, show a couple of the films that are made in the class. When we did it for the first time and when it was done, Michael Moore turned to me and said, ‘So we’re going to do this every year, right?’ And I replied, ‘Absolutely.’ ”
Malignant Humor, produced by LSA senior Matthew Barnauskas, an Arts writer at the Daily, follows the story of an improv comedy troupe that, upon arriving at a high school they’re supposed to perform at, find out a student there has committed suicide.
“Malignant Humor” was the second film produced by Barnauskas. He said the most rewarding part of producing was seeing the finished product.
“With producing, what you’re basically doing is you’re giving the supplies to others to do their work,” he said. “You’re giving locations, you’re making sure there is room for the crew, you’re making sure everything is locked down tight so your crew can go out and make the film they want to make.”
LSA senior Annie Cohen, the supervising editor for “Malignant Humor,” expressed her excitement for the festival.
“I personally was incredibly excited to attend the festival and get to see the hard work of so many people projected for new audiences to enjoy,” she said. “By the time the festival rolled around, I had been working on the movie for about six months and was just so happy to be able to share the work that we did over the course of the winter semester with those involved. Many people who were involved with the production, both cast and crew, hadn’t seen a final version of it all put together so it was amazing to hear their new thoughts on the movie that I had seen probably 50 times already.”
Matthew Solomon, associate professor of film history and theory, was one of the moderators invited to the festival to lead discussions about film with the audience. Solomon said he was also very impressed with the two student productions.
“I just think they’re tremendously impressive high-level productions done by undergrads,” he said. “It’s remarkable, the production values and the quality of those films always wows the audience at Traverse City, and it’s a great tradition that our department has built.”
Solomon has been attending the festival for nearly six years now, and he recommends it to anyone who has an interest in film.
“It’s a really great festival,” he said. “It’s really nice to meet the filmmakers and have such a vibrant audience that loves movies around you, so it’s a great experience. I highly recommend it to anyone in the area who has any interest in films. It’s one of the best festivals I’ve been to.”
Both Cohen and Barnauskas said they are excited to continue working in filmmaking, and said they were grateful to have their experience with the Traverse City Film Festival help them with their goals.
“I hope to work in editing in the future once I graduate, so the festival definitely helped with that,” she said. “This was the first time that I had worked in a setting of many editors all working together to create a mass amount of content. The festival turns out daily videos of recaps from the day’s events that had been happening throughout the week. So although Kat and I were only working on a small part of the festival’s editing process it was definitely beneficial to learn how a space like that can be run.”
Next year, both Solomon and Burnstein intend on heading back to Traverse City for what will be the 10th anniversary of showcasing University films at the festival.