Student-Run Ivy Film Fest to Showcase Student Shorts, Hollywood Guests
by Claiborne Smith
A day in the life of Ana Mahony, Brown University sophomore, usually consists of an unremarkably collegiate routine. "Well, I wake up and I check my email," she said recently in-between a Chinese and a sociology course. "And then I do my schoolwork and go to class." Mahony is majoring in organizational theory, but recently she hasn't done much theorizing. "To be honest, I don't consider myself as much of a student as everybody else at this school," she says. "I'm learning how to run a film festival."
Mahony is the chairman of the Ivy Film Festival, the three-year-old fest that touts itself as the only festival in the nation organized by undergraduates that is also devoted to screening movies made by them. It opens this week at the Brown campus on Thursday with a screening of "American Splendor" and finishes on Sunday afternoon with a screening of the winning films, chosen by a jury of film-industry figures from the 32 student shorts that will be featured over the course of the festival. Three non-student films -- Morgan Spurlock's documentary "Super Size Me" and the forthcoming "Mean Girls" and "The Girl Next Door" -- will also be featured.
Ivy founders David Peck and Justin Slotsky, who have both since graduated from Brown, were non-film majors who were making movies but didn't have anywhere to show them. Film production courses are not among the major offerings in the Ivy League, which is better known for excelling in traditionally academic disciplines. Once he began to talk about his film, based on the Herman Hesse novel "Damien," Peck realized that "there were all these students who were making films but weren't getting them seen."
"The production resources just aren't there" in the Ivy League, festival vice-chairman Doug Imbruce, a junior at Columbia, says. "The problem is that the creativity, passion, and knowledge are there." Imbruce's movie "Killing Nana" won the fest's chairman's award in 2001. It is a tale of a dysfunctional suburban family; the father of the household attempts to hasten his mother-in-law's heavenly reward by mercy killing her. Forty-six films from a total of 150 submissions were featured in the fest's first year.
Festival organizers soon discovered that although universities in other parts of the nation may offer more film production courses than Ivy League schools, student filmmakers across the country felt frustrated by the lack of venues to screen their work. "In order for us to have the best student films that are out there, we need people to submit films from everywhere," festival chairman Mahony says. The fest accepts submissions from students who are film majors and thus benefit from being able to use their university's production equipment, but their films are judged in a separate category. For the 2003 festival, organizers established a category for international students to submit their films, as well as adding a screenplay competition.
"At most of the festivals," vice-chairman Imbruce says, "you've got such well-connected filmmakers that students can't compete even if they're on the same level. A lot of the time they're not, but I don't believe those festivals are meritocracies. At the Ivy Film Festival, the films speak for themselves."
So do the big-name attendees Ivy organizers have managed to nab over the festival's short existence. The fest's Thursday night screening of "American Splendor," which has already had its theatrical run, may seem unimpressive, but on Saturday night, Harvey Pekar, the subject of "American Splendor," will give a lecture. Oliver Stone was a featured guest in the festival's first year, and Julia Stiles and Chloe Sevigny showed up in 2003 to pick up awards for artistic merit and the fest's searchlight award, given to an outstanding actor who is also in college. "Rodger Dodger" director Dylan Kidd and Tim Robbins attended in 2003. This year, Paramount Pictures' vice-chairman Robert Friedman (whose daughter Taylor is a freshman at Brown and Ivy's director of publicity) will attend, as will directors Wes Craven, Brett Ratner, and James Toback. CAA agent Roy Ashton will participate in a panel discussion, "From Film School to Film Set: Breaking into Hollywood," with Friedman and Greenfield Productions' director of development Matt Siegel. Adrien Brody will also be there on Friday night to pick up his Ivy choice award, given to actors who choose daring material. Imbruce and festival founder Peck happened to see Brody out one night at a Manhattan bar and approached him about attending the festival. He gave them the phone number for his publicist, and, later, actually agreed to attend.
The heady concentration of Hollywood figures at Ivy has another purpose, however. "Students have a very difficult time because the inroads of the Ivy League community aren't as developed in the entertainment world as at some other schools," Imbruce, an English major, says. "The festival produces a venue for networking. Oliver Stone presented me with my award. That's unprecedented for a student." Then he reconsiders. "What really excites me is seeing the students interact with one another and see a filmmaker gain an audience for an eight-minute movie he poured his soul into. That's better than meeting Oliver Stone."