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Emerson Film Festival Honors Student Filmmaking at Its Best

The 17th annual Emerson College Film Festival, held last Saturday, featured a diverse lineup of films that explored low-income communities, the immigrant experience, sexual assault, and even a man falling in love with a Christmas tree angel.

On March 18, 15 graduate and undergraduate films, including narrative, documentary, experimental, and animated, were screened in the Bright Family Screening Room in a friendly competition for audience votes. Awards were announced following a post-screening reception at Emerson Urban Arts: Media Art Gallery.

The winner of the Boston Creative Pro User Group (BOSCPUG) Audience Award, presented by founder Daniel Bérubé ’89, was Pablo Vaca Orvananos ’17 for his film, Si no te Vas, on which he worked with Michael Vitz-Wong ’17. It told the story of an immigrant couple trying to balance their love for one another with their own realities.

“Their story is not only about immigration but about love,” Orvananos said, “And that makes it very human. Sometimes immigrants…we’re not seen as that. Our job and crossing the border defines us, but I don’t think that’s what should define us in the media.”

Orvananos also won the Jonathan Friedenberg ’84 Award.

The Barbara Rutberg ’68 Award for achievement in documentary went to MFA student Marina Zang for her film, Gate of Heavenly Peace. It highlighted the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, student-led demonstrations in Beijing that led to the killing of several hundred civilians by government-issued troops.

“This history, for me, is a new thing,” Zang said, “I really want more people like me to know about this period in history, and I’m trying to get more perspectives from different people…so it’s not a one-sided thing and people can know the different sides of it.”

Audience member Theo Frorer said that Gate of Heavenly Peace was his favorite film shown that afternoon.

“I think it brought awareness,” he said, “It was interesting because it brought in the perspective of the Chinese media, which I had never found out about. You learn about this event in history class in high school, but not like that.”

The Jeff Arch ’76 Screenwriting Award for a body of work was given to Madeline O’Hara ’17, and the Film Nation Award for Narrative Film, donated by Emerson Trustee Steven Samuels, went to Yuval Shapira, MFA ’16, for Babies.

In addition, seven seniors were recognized at the reception for various disciplines: Sasha Kleszy for New Media, Gemma Gamberdell for Television and Video, Wesley Emblidge for Media Studies, Samantha Sanchez for Audio, Clara Lorant for Film Production, Peri Lapidus for Screenwriting, and Lili Mei for Photography.

Following each screening was a question-and-answer with the filmmakers. Filmmakers who submitted work to the Emerson College Film Festival said seeing their films in a theater was a wonderful experience.

Amy DePaola, an MFA student, directed and starred in Amydee, a short film documenting a sexual assault survivor that trains herself to fight in the ring.

“I loved watching my film on the big screen,” DePaola said. “Honestly I think it’s the only way to watch it. I’ve sent it to people before to view online, and I’m always like, ‘Plug in some headphones and turn up the volume to try and envelop yourself in it.’”

Jordan Gustafson ’18 directed Blueberries, which tells the improvisational story of the downfall of a couple in college.

“I’ve never seen [Blueberries] on the big screen,” he said, “It was awesome; it was so cool. It was kind of a new experience.”


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