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Diverse, Ambitious Films Coming to Emerson Film Festival

Bethany Spreadborough ’17 had just had her wisdom teeth out over holiday break her freshman year and was recuperating on the couch watching Wallace and Gromit, Nick Park’s stop-motion animation series about a man and his dog, when she had a revelation.

“I thought, ‘I could do that,’” Spreadborough said of the animation, “which I guess is a big ego thing… but I love stop-motion animation and I thought I’d give it a go.”

Two years later, Spreadborough was building characters and filming for her 8-minute stop-motion animated film, This Year’s Angel. The short, about a tiny, lonely man who falls in love with a Christmas tree angel, is one of 14 student films being screened at this year’s Emerson Film Festival on Saturday, March 18, in the Bright Family Screening Room.

Anna Feder, programming manager for the Department of Visual and Media Arts, said, “In all my time here, I’ve never seen an animated film on that scale.”

Feder said this year’s program, divided into two screenings, at 1:00 and 3:00 pm, is “really diverse,” with lots of films made by international students and five by women filmmakers. As always, there’s a good mix of live action narrative, animated, and documentary films.

Students will compete for a range of cash prizes, including the Film Nation Narrative Award, the Take Action Hollywood Award for Social Justice Filmmaking; the Barbara Rutberg Documentary Award; and the Audience Award presented by Daniel Bérubé ’89, founder of Boston Creative Pro User Group (BOSCPUG), a community of digital filmmakers and broadcast professionals.

This year, the festival will be followed by a reception held at the new Emerson Urban Arts: Media Art Gallery, 25 Avery Street.

Spreadborough had reason to believe she could follow in Nick Park’s footsteps.

“I used to do little LEGO stop-motion [films],” she said. “I worked in the prop shop at Emerson, so I’m good with building things. So I think it’s just a combination of those two things.”

The main character in This Year’s Angel is built around a ball-and-socket skeleton that Spreadborough bought for its range of motion. She made him a foam body with a Plasticine face and hands that she could move. She sewed him little clothes.

The angel was a little less intense. She doesn’t need to move as much, so she has a knitted body around a wire frame.

The film was part of a directed study she was doing with affiliated faculty Joseph Kolbe, who helped her build the sets.

There’s a snow scene in the film, which was filmed on a 4-foot by 6-foot set that she built inside her bedroom in her apartment. “It took up most of the space,” she said.

She also got help from her roommate, Emmy Walrath ‘17, who wrote the score, and classmates Megan Duncan ‘17 and Logan Romjue ‘18, who did the sound design.

“They had to start completely from scratch because there was no recording as you go, because it’s photography,” she said. “So they built everything from the bottom up and it sounds really cool.”

Spreadborough said she’s currently working on a project that mixes live action with stop-motion animation.

Other films being screened at the Emerson Film Festival include The Last Goodbye (Jackson Davis), Babies (Yuval Shapira), Motel Room (Kimberly Kelmelis), Ade’s Problem (Andrew C. Lawrence), A House by the Waterfall (Haoyang Wang), Amydee (Amy DePaola), A Fraction of a Dot (Jackson Davis), The Door (Dai Wei), Does a Bear Need Many Glasses (Wei Cui), Zoo (Ernest Lesmana), The Best Job in the World (Guangya Zeng and Jinglin Li), Blueberries (Jordan Gustafson), and Si no te Vas (Pablo Vaca Orvananos).

For more information, visit the Emerson Film Festival Facebook page.

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