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Emerson Film Festival Premiering Nine Student Films, Showcasing Alumni Work

The 23rd Annual Emerson Film Festival returns on Wednesday, March 20, with nine student films about an array of eclectic topics, including a black-gloved tarantula, an animated insecure gazelle, a Texas cowboy traveling to Paris, and more.

This year, the festival is presented as part of Celebrate Emerson, three days of community events to commemorate the inauguration of Dr. Jay Bernhardt as the 13th president of the College.

Unlike past year’s, the 2024 event showcase films made by alums, most while they were students, including Daniel Scheinert ’09 and Daniel Kwan ’10, the duo behind last year’s Oscar-winning juggernaut Everything Everywhere All at Once.

“This will be the largest and most festive celebration of student and alumni media in my time overseeing the festival,” said Anna Feder, Head of Film Exhibitions and Festival Programs. 

The festival will be hosted at the Paramount Theatre’s Robert J. Orchard Stage from 7 to 9:30 pm, with a reception to follow in the Jackie Liebergott Black Box Theatre.

The reception includes a photo exhibition from Arthur Li ’24 and a video installation from Asma Khoshmehr, MFA ’24, as well as the winners of the Best of Fest Awards.

Li’s Labyrinth Through Glass is a collection of still photos that aim to depict the disconnection and loneliness of human existence, often felt despite being in the company of others.

Khoshmehr’s Shahrzade’s Labyrinth of Liberation is a video art installation that explores her family’s survival from forced sexual servitude post-Zanzibar revolution in 1970. Through evocative storytelling, she parallels political sexual violence under dictatorship with the king’s tale from Arabian Nights, shedding light on timeless struggles for liberation amid women’s bodies as battlegrounds in war or revolution.

The selection process for the films involved more than a dozen Visual & Media Arts faculty, and the program was curated by Feder, VMA Chair Shaun Clarke, and VMA Assistant Professor Owen Egerton.

RSVPs are required in advance of the festival.

Alumni Program

Swingers (2009) by Daniel Scheinert ’09 and Daniel Kwan ’10

A person swings on a swing at night with another person standing next to them

This student film made by the Academy Award-winning duo, The Daniels, has a tagline of: “Sometimes giving a dude a simple push on a swing isn’t so simple after all.”

Pat (2010) by Nathaniel Hansen, MFA ’13 

A headshot of an older woman

After years of walking by her store, director Hansen finally stopped in to learn more about this “familiar stranger.”

Swim (2017) by Mari Walker ’08 

As summer draws to a close, a young trans girl finds freedom in a secret midnight swim.

Patron Saint (2019) by Geordon West, MFA ’18 

Image from "Patron Saint"

The ecstasy of a saint brings her to the gates of heaven. In a celebration of the Divine Queer, Patron Saint reimagines religion and history as queer deities wearing Jamall Osterholm’s fashion line interact within a mystical landscape.

Student Program

Nalb Noum by Xzaviah J. Stone Sr., MFA ’23

A cartoon image of three Black people on a path with buildings in the back

A massacre on the Black community is unfolding as a Black teen and his friends journey to discover the truth behind an old folklore.

As a Black filmmaker, Stone wanted to create authentic stories for people who look like him . The monster in Nalb Noum represents cultural appropriation, police brutality and “so much more”. 

“I am a huge horror fan, so naturally I want to tell authentic stories with authentic characters in that medium,” Stone said. “Nalb Noum is a snapshot of the society in which many of us live daily. I was always taught that if you can create something so scary that the audience would bring it home with them after leaving the theater, then you’ve done something correct. With that thought, my melanin-stealing monster was created, and Nalb Noum was born.” 

Lone Star by Sadie Sweitzer ’25

A person looks up to the Eiffel Tour

A lone Texas cowboy travels to Paris as an antidote for his loneliness, but only finds more sorrow. An unexpected meeting shows him that beauty can be found in unlikely places.

Lone Star was inspired by Sweitzer’s time abroad. Originally from Austin, Sweitzer said she sometimes felt isolated in her interactions with French people, sticking out “like a blueberry in a cherry pie.”

“I made the film as a way of channeling that feeling of isolation, of yearning for the free expanse of the Texas desert when all that surrounds you are tall buildings and unknown faces,” Sweizter said. “The story is based off of the French cinema trope of la rencontre, which means ‘the meeting.’ Essentially, I wanted the story to be about a cowboy who meets a city, meets a thing, then finally meets a person, and how meeting that person can bring an entirely different context to a strange, new place.”

Robin by Tris Arthur ’23 

A person is in bed under cover talking to a person sitting on the edge of a bed

A teenager, unwillingly cast as the male lead in a coming-of-age film, runs away in search of their real identity. In accepting help from those around them, they begin to discover who they are while charting a path forward.

Graysen’s Room by Lida Everhart ’24

A person holds up a purple bag while looking at the camera

A friend and inspiration to Everhart, Graysen shares their philosophy on art and creation from the comfort of their room.

“I was inspired to make a documentary about Graysen when I was tasked with creating a character portrait for my personal filmmaking class,” Everhart said. “I knew I had to make the film about Graysen because they completely embody their artistic perspective and have really inspired me as an artist and a friend.”

Still Waters by Steven Fong, MFA ’23

A child peeks through a closet

When a recent breakup awakens a nightmare from his past, a fractured man struggles to hold onto his sanity after a mysterious boy appears in his home.

Tarántula by Tomas Orrego, MFA ’24

A black hand reaches behind a door

When hungry, the black-gloved tarantula crawls out of its crypt to feed: The pale flesh of innocent bodies it takes into dark corners. Using hand-processed 16mm black-and-white film and a dismantled soundtrack, the atmosphere of a lost artifact is evoked.

“The images that would manifest through the paper collages I was making a couple of years ago prompted the film,” Orrego said. “There was a constant apparition of a pair of legs being attacked by a gloved hand, and I took this as a starting point for Tarántula.”

Call Home by Elise Cohen, MFA ’23

Barren trees with the top of a tower in the background with a caption that reads: When are you coming back Cherie?

Call Home is a reflective documentary that weaves intimate phone calls of the filmmaker’s grandmother with archival footage, navigating the emotional landscape of distance and belonging. After living abroad for eight years, Cohen has navigated the complexities of displacement and culture. 

“Drawing inspiration from my own family history and relationships, my work is both deeply personal and universally relatable,” Cohen said. “This experience has inspired me to explore the ways in which cultural identity is transmitted within families, and how this transmission can be impacted by immigration, language barriers, and generational gap.”

The Silent Whistle by Yingtong Li, MFA ’22

Silhouettes of two people with a background in the back

Ming is a 19-year-old loner who works the night shift in a convenience store. One day near the spring festival, her unacquainted neighbor, Rui, invites her to a “special” dinner, which summons up her unspeakable past.

The Silent Whistle premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2022 and won a Gotham Short Film Showcase Award later that year.

Freddie by Maya Chang ’23

A cartoon image of an animal sitting against a tree with a sleep cap on their head while they read a book

The film is about an insecure gazelle searching for his lost hat, who finds something even more valuable: self-acceptance.

Chang said she was born with a condition called congenital femoral deficiency, and her left femur was shorter than her right. She had several surgeries growing up, and had to use a walker and lifted shoe for most of her childhood. Chang faced bullying and judgement from a young age, and her surgeries have left permanent scarring, musculature differences, and persistent joint issues.

“I wanted to make this film so that audiences of any age could understand how it feels to look different, and how judgment can negatively affect those with physical differences or other disabilities,” Chang said. “Additionally, I wanted those with physical differences to know that they are never alone, even if it might feel like it sometimes.”

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