An Ambitious Student Film Festival

No matter how accomplished they may be, there is no denying that student films can be indulgent. Most, if animate, would take the weight of the world on their shoulders and lie awake at night pondering whether to sustain forever its crushing tonnage, or to heave it off in what might possibly be a last, dying breath. But it is the freedom of this state of contemplation that makes student work so important. For a filmmaker, it characterizes a period unlikely to be visited again, at least with so unbridled an innocence. For the audience, student films are the chance to see where we're coming from and where we're going; from what roots will grow the next Martin Scorsese or Gus Van Sant, and from what ethos and timely inspiration these artists draw. With the intention of taking this experience beyond the classroom, students at the University of Texas have organized a festival of student films dubbed CinemaTexas, which will run on campus from Thursday, September 26-Sunday, September 29. And with an ambitious schedule encompassing three programs of films -- a competitive program of 40 UT student works, the highly acclaimed traveling international University Film and Video Association's (UFVA) Student Film and Video Festival, and a retrospective of past UT award winners -- not to mention a panel discussion on festivals and distribution, and a rare 35mm screening of the Russian documentary I Am Cuba, the festival promises something for everyone with a film fetish.

The UFVA exhibition consists of works judged from a pool of 600 entries from over 20 countries, representing 200 film schools, that will make 14 stops across the U.S. (Austin is its second) on this year's trip. I had a chance to preview some of these touring films, and, for the most part, the quality stands up to the festival's reputation. Stand-outs include Brett Morgen's much-written-about documentary Ollie's Army (NYU), a frightening look at the fervent supporters of Oliver North and their campaign to get him elected to the Virginia senate in 1994; Timothy Naylor's Generic Metal Titians, also from NYU, notable for its production values and exemplary acting but a prime example of my thesis statement; David Munro's First Love Second Planet (San Francisco State), an incredibly shot metaphor for incest, whose intense landscape gives a pleasantly absurd angle to the heavy, overly-visited subject; Ram Nehari's I'm Miserable Now (Tel Aviv U), the story of a young man's uncertainty about entering the Israeli army; and Joshua Oreck's My Day (Rhode Island School of Design), a nicely shot day in the life of an artist, his waitress girlfriend, and their strange upstairs neighbor, a personal trainer named Fritz. At least two Texans have films in the tour. Lubbock native Bill Brown's Roswell (Harvard) is a light-hearted tour through New Mexico with an amnesiac in search of UFO's, and Jesus of Judson, a UT film by Jake Vaughan (produced by Amy Thompson, written by Bryan Poyser) explores the reluctant friendships of a group of Army brat misfits.

The local arm of the festival presents this year's finalists in three, two-hour-long programs. Awards will be presented for best narrative, animation, documentary, best no-budget, and best experimental. Special Achievement awards will be handed out for cinematography, editing, and best screenplay. Highlights from the past UT award winners program (12 films) include Brian O'Kelly's Detour, Rachel Tsangari's Fit, Susan Bloom's Kitty Hill, Anthony Tenczar's Spoken Flesh, Susanne Mason's Tales from the Riverside, Tassos Rigopoulos' The Significant Other, and Karen Kocher's Common Ground: The Battle for Barton Springs.

In addition, a special screening of the rediscovered 1964 doucumentary I Am Cuba, a Soviet-made film that combines the bleakness of communism with the rich greenery of the Carribean tropics of Cuba (the film was banned after its release for failing to meet the government agenda) will take place on Sunday at 3:30pm with the film's cinematographer, Sasha Calzatti, in attendance. It is I Am Cuba's stunning, unprecedented cinematography that elevates the film to a level beyond its purpose, and even by today's standards is impressive to look at. Calzetti served as first camera operator for the film when he was only 22 years old. A Q&A with the cinematographer will follow the screening at 6pm.

Though the group has bitten off what may appear to be more than one new film festival can chew, CinemaTexas is hoping this year's maiden voyage will be a success, that they'll get the public out to see films the students feel haven't yet had a proper audience, and that local enthusiasm might extend the festival's reach into next year when they plan to accept entries from around the world and begin to establish CinemaTexas as an international short film showcase. Entertainment-wise there's more than enough to go around, so go ahead... indulge.

-- Jen Scoville

The CinemaTexas Film and Video Festival runs Thursday, September 26-Sunday, September 29 at the Texas Union Theatre on the UT campus (24th & Guadalupe); admission is $2 ($1 for UT students). Thursday's opening-night reception (5pm) will be held in the theatre lobby. For more info, call 471-6659.

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