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Emerson Talent Shines Bright at SXSW

Emerson College alumni and friends gather for a party following the premiere of Best and Most Beautiful Things at SXSW in Austin, Texas. From left: Sean Bradley '99, Alyssa H., Alexander Lehmann '04, Emerson College Los Angeles Vice President and Founding Director Kevin Bright '76, Jordan Salvatoriello MFA '12, Garrett Zevgetis MA '05, Emerson College Director of Programming Anna Feder, faculty member Shaun Clarke MFA '12, Sarah Bordelon '15, CosPlay party talent, and faculty member Jean-Paul DiSciscio. Photo: Eugene Lee.

Emerson College was well represented at the 2016 South by Southwest Film Festival (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, with three feature-film world premieres and two shorts.

Emerson College Los Angeles Vice President and Founding Director Kevin Bright ’76 premiered the documentary Best and Most Beautiful Things, which he executive produced, at the prestigious film festival.

“Along with my production team of three recent Emerson College graduates, I’m thrilled to bring the film to South by Southwest,” said Bright, who hosted an after-party for fellow alumni following the premiere of Best and Most Beautiful Things on March 14.

Garrett Zevgetis, MA ’05, directed the documentary, which is named after a Helen Keller quote (“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched—they must be felt with the heart”.). Jordan Salvatoriello, MFA ’12, was a cinematographer/producer on the film and Sarah Ginsburg ’11 was a cinematographer/additional editor. All alumni were on hand at SXSW for the premiere.

“Four of the key crew members [of this film] are proud Emerson alumni,” said Zevgetis. “Best and Most Beautiful Things would not have been made without Emerson College. This film is a testament to team work and Emerson is part of that team.”

Best and Most Beautiful Things tells the story of Michelle Smith, a young woman who is legally blind and diagnosed with high-functioning autism. The documentary follows her path to independence, love, and self-discovery. 

Academy Award-nominated producer Sarah Green ’81 was also in Austin to introduce Midnight Special, a science-fiction drama starring, written, and directed by Jeff Nichols. Green co-produced the film, which stars Adam Driver, Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst, and Joel Edgerton. Midnight Special tells the story of a father who goes on the run to protect his young son, a boy with mysterious powers. The film can be seen in select theaters starting March 18.

An independent film producer, Green is known for her work with directors such as Nichols, Terrence Malick, and Julie Taymor. She has co-produced a number of high-profile feature films, including Frida, The Tree of Life, and the upcoming Nichols-directed Loving. At SXSW on March 15, Green took part in an “influencers” conversation session.

“She’s made a living supporting directors,” Nichols said of Green. “I don’t exist without people like her.”

Alexandre Lehmann ’04 was at SXSW for the premiere of his documentary Asperger’s Are Us, which he directed, edited, and co-produced in addition to handling director of photography duties. The coming-of-age documentary follows four friends from Boston on the autism spectrum who perform as a comedy troupe with the same name as the movie. Netflix acquired worldwide streaming rights to the documentary, which Sean Bradley ’99 co-produced. Read the announcement at Variety.

The short film Thunder Road, written and directed by Jim Cummings ’09 and produced by Mark Vashro ’08, also screened at the festival. In January, the film was awarded the Short Film Grand Jury Prize at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. Cummings took part in SXSW’s 90 Minute Film School, a series of presentations to help visitors gain knowledge about how to create an independent film and get it out to the world.

Danny Madden ’09, co-founder of the filmmaking collective Ornana Films (where Cummings is a producer), was also at SXSW to debut his animated short, The Girl in the Yellow Dress. The short is about an “it” girl who walks into a 1960s Paris jazz club. Madden directed the short, which is a music video for Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour.

In 2012, Ornana Films won the Animated Short Prize at SXSW for (notes on) biology, a short about a bored student in science class and the elephant he draws that blends live action with animation. Madden told SXSW that through attending SXSW he has gained friendships and inspiration from other makers. He offered one tip to SXSW attendees: talk to everyone.

Anna Feder, director of programming in the Visual and Media Arts Department at Emerson College, attended the festival and said this was an excellent year for Emerson talent at SXSW.

“This international festival of film, interactive, music, and education is truly the best showcase for the range of artistic work being produced by our community as well as an excellent way for current students to bridge classroom knowledge and real-world application,” said Feder. “I couldn’t be prouder of my affiliation with the College and the impact we had in Austin this year.”

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