Every year, film production students at Brooklyn College showcase their senior thesis films at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It is a rite of passage for production majors as they graduate and go on to the tumultuous industry that is filmmaking. But this year, due to COVID-19, the festival is in question, with some students looking to retain what they look forward to throughout their college lives.
“It’s not just about the films, it’s about us,” said Aeris Nguyen, a film production student who had graduated in the fall. She was set to premiere her thesis film, Incidentally: A Halloween Teen Movie, a culmination of her time at BC, at the festival originally scheduled for May 26.
The department chose to plan a virtual festival for the 50-60 student thesis projects, to be held sometime in June.
“There was no alternative for now,” said Annette Danto, who is in her first semester as chair of the film department. “We have to adapt a bit, and not let these accomplishments [the films] fade away,” she told the Vanguard via phone call.
Once some students heard about the plan to put the festival online, a petition was created by a group of eight students in a fall thesis post-production classes to postpone the festival until an in-person event can be held.
“We feel like we are being robbed of this rite of passage,” its description reads. So far, the petition has been signed by 73 students.
“We just felt as if things were getting a final decision a little early,” said a member of that group who wished to remain anonymous. The student says that because the film department’s two editing labs in the West End Building are inaccessible, students wouldn’t be able to submit their best work. “A lot of kids won’t be able to even export the best versions of their film since they lack the resources to edit at high quality,” said the member of the group.
Upon being sent the petition, the film department administration immediately put the brakes on the plans for the virtual festival, sending out a survey to gauge the response, as well as scheduling a town hall with students that was held Tuesday afternoon.
“Whatever decision we make is up to the students,” said Danto. “At least the majority of students.”
The results of that survey were 60-40 in favor of going forward with the virtual festival, according to the department.
“I think the virtual festival will be a great morale booster in these times,” said Tyler Ruvo, a thesis student who is for the department’s initial plan. “Many students, myself included, are chomping at the bit to get their work out there.” Ruvo was planning on showing his thesis film Recollection.
However, an online festival would not be the final word on the thesis films being shown. Under the department’s plan, there would still be an attempt to hold an in-person event as soon as the city reopens.
“There’s no substitute for seeing a film in a theater with friends and family,” said Danto.
Although Nguyen agrees with that point, she worries an in-person festival might be redundant after a virtual one.
“I don’t know if people will wanna show up once they premiere online,” she said.
One possible way to remedy that is by waiting for an in-person event to give out the craft awards: prizes given to filmmakers in individual categories, such as best cinematography.
“I think postponing them to the physical festival would be fair,” said Ruvo.
Of course, any plan to hold a physical event is contingent on the complicated nature of our current climate, as officials at every level grapple with when and how New York City should begin to reopen
“We are sort of dependent on the college and university on telling us what we can and can’t do,” said Danto. “The Ideal would be to do an in-person festival as soon as possible.”
Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic might not be the only obstacle in the film department’s way towards an in-person festival. Electronics and camera retailer B&H, a long-time sponsor of the festival, curtailed its usual contribution, citing a lack of sales from CUNY and Brooklyn College students. This would make it difficult for the department to pay for the BAM venue.
“We were sort of in a situation of needing to change venue regardless,” said Danto.
In any event, there is still no current ruling on what will be the 38th Annual Brooklyn College Film Festival, with the virtual town hall bearing no immediate result. Both students and the department administration alike would prefer not to see student accomplishments go uncelebrated.
“We want it to feel like an event, that’s what we all want,” said Nguyen.