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“Terranaut,” “Jonah Stands Up” Rise to Top of Emerson Film Festival

Filmmakers Gabriel Volcovich '16, Matthew Klein '16, Jake Schwartz '17, Sean Temple '16, Nathan Ng, and Molly Benjaminson '16 talk to the audience after their films were screened at the Emerson Film Festival on March 20 in the Bright Family Screening Room. Photo/Nick Eaton '17

Students, faculty, alumni, and family members packed the Bright Family Screening Room to support the diverse talent of Emersonians at the 16th annual Emerson Film Festival on March 20.

Organized by the Visual and Media Arts Department, the festival was a showcase of 17 student films ranging from short animated films to a documentary on a comedian with cardiomyopathy.

The Emerson Film Festival consisted of two programs: Anti-Gravity included lighter films, and Gravity comprised more serious drama. The film genres spanned animation, narrative, documentary, experimental, and more.

Winners of the festival’s competitions will have their work submitted to the Emerson Los Angeles Film Festival in the fall.

Terranaut, a film about the relationship between a former astronaut and her partner directed by Molly Benjaminson ’16 won the Film Nation Award for Best Narrative Film. Benjaminson called the film “semi-autobiographical,” and audience member Andy Leon ’17 raved about its impressive narrative.

“It was a story I had never seen before and was so intriguing,” Leon said. “The shots in the film were amazing.”

Jake Schwartz '17 talks to the audience alongside Matt Klein '16 and Molly Benjaminson '16 at the Emerson Film Festival. Photo/Nick Eaton '17

Hannah Engleson, MFA ’15, took home two prizes for her documentary, Jonah Stands Up, which centers on the late Jonah Bascle, a New Orleans comic with muscular dystrophy and cardiomyopathy. She won both the Barbara Rutberg Award for Best Documentary as well as the Take Action Hollywood Award for Social Justice Filmmaking prize sponsored by TV host and actress Maria Menounos ’00.

Engleson, who made the film as her MFA thesis, spent years making it. The film sparked a lot of emotions from the audience. Lea Phillips ’16 said she sobbed the entire time.

“It was so emotional and empowering. I could tell that she had poured her heart into making this film and it made it so incredible to witness,” she said.

The Audience Award, which goes to the film that receives the most votes from the audience members of the film festival, was given to Sean Temple ’16 for his film, Aster and Sidney, which takes place in a post-apocalyptic world that has brought two strangers together.

Temple said the film was born after his co-writer watched a cult classic. “My co-writer had just watched Night of the Living Dead, and there was a scene where the guys were talking about what they were going to do and the women were just in the corner being ignored and having no say in the conversation,” Temple said. “She got really passionate in telling the opposite story about two women and a lost world and we decided to go down that path and make it about a relationship and the points of communication between two people.”

Molly Benjaminson '16 receives the Film Nation Award for Best Narrative Film from Anna Feder at the Emerson Film Festival. Photo/Nick Eaton '17

Other films that made an impression on the audience were My Yizkor, directed by Gabriel Volcovich ’16, about a Holocaust survivor remembering his experiences during the war, and Winter Vacation, created by Roger JC Lee ’16, about a teen runaway couple who break into a hotel to seek warmth during one cold night.

Lee’s film was met with praise by the audience but skepticism from the director himself.

“It’s actually really funny because I submitted to the Emerson Film Festival without having finished the film,” Lee said. “I’m proud of it, I learned a lot from it; but I also felt really discouraged by it for a long period of time. Recently I’ve been trying to go back to it and fix up all the things I didn’t like and so hopefully it’ll be better.”

Anna Feder, director of programming in the Visual and Media Arts Department and curator of the Bright Lights Film Series, ended the festival by praising the students and their films: “I couldn’t be prouder of the work that came out of the festival; the effort that went into making these movies is truly inspiring and it was really an outstanding array of movies.”

The festival was followed by a reception at the Jackie Liebergott Black Box Theatre where the festival awards were handed out. Brooke Knight, chair of the VMA Department, also presented the 2016 Outstanding Senior Awards, which are presented to graduating students selected by faculty members for outstanding contributions to the department. The winners were:

New Media Award Recipient: Alexandra Eby

Television & Video Award: Eden Fury

Media Studies Award: Robin Shuster

Audio Awardt: Samantha Doyle

Film Production Award: Garbiele Ubronaite

Screenwriting Award: Pamela Mora

Photography Award: Jake White

The Jeff Arch Screenwriting Award was given to Olivia Harvey and the Jonathan Hart Friedenberg Award was awarded to Molly Benjaminson.

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