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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Here comes the SunDeis

Published: April 23, 2010
Section: Arts, Etc.

After almost failing to return this year for its seventh outing, the annual SunDeis Film Festival debuts its slate of films this weekend.

Because this year’s festival did not receive its usual funding from Student Activities due to a budget crunch, its future had been in question at the beginning of the semester.

However, after receiving a promise of financial assistance from the Film, Television and Interactive Media Program, preparation for the festival commenced. Planning was initially done by a committee primarily consisting of BTV members and film students, though its membership increased throughout the beginning stages.

These students, members of Brandeis’ burgeoning film community, were determined to revitalize the festival.

“We set our sights high. We wanted to revolutionize the film festival. We wanted to make SunDeis a legacy,” SunDeis committee head Avi Swerdlow ’10 said.

“Our goal was to accurately represent the film community on this campus, and I think it’s thriving. In years past, I don’t think we necessarily showcased our best work.”

Committee members met one to two times per week in what they described as a intensely collaborative process.

“We’ve been aware of the claim that we’re not student-run, and, in response, we’ve been more student-run than ever before,” said Swerdlow.

All this work has paid off in their eyes.

“I think we’ve raised the caliber of the festival. Having had a chance to look at our submissions, I’d say that the [festival’s quality] is much better in terms of the submissions we did receive,” said Swerdlow.

This year’s competition saw an unprecedented number of submissions, with a total of 56 entries having been received. The previous Sundeis’ participation was less than half that. This year’s entries were received from filmmakers as far away as the Czech Republic and Japan.

Brandeisian filmmakers also were heavily represented, with 25 entries coming from on-campus filmmakers alone.

In order to attract more submissions, the committee utilized Withoutabox, a service which, according to Gdaly Berlin ’10, “connects filmmakers with film festivals around the world” by acting as a kind of online application service. It also allowed the committee to easily keep track of all submissions received.

The festival, in addition, sponsored a 48-hour film contest. The only requirement was that participants had to utilize a sequence of dialogue that was provided by the SunDeis committee. The festival received four such submissions.

“The fantastic thing is that three out of the four groups were comprised of first-time filmmakers,” said Swerdlow. “[It shows that] the best way to get started is to just start.”

Once submissions were received, the committee allowed students to view the films and recommend them for nominations.

“Anybody who didn’t submit a movie could be a reviewer. They just had to show interest,” said Emily Salloway ’13. “The nominees were really selected by Brandeis students.”

A minimum of two students were required to view each submission.

“We were primarily reacting to concerns of bias in years past, so [this year] we emphasized procedure and fairness,” said Swerdlow.

The festival will present the nominees over the course of four themed evenings, with the first screening having occurred on Thursday night.

The festival opened with a screening at the Wasserman Cinematheque of the feature-length film “The Greater Meaning of Water,” which was written and directed by former Olympic cyclist Sky Christopherson. The film centers around a competitive freediver suffering from a chronic lung disease who risks his life to achieve a new world record.

The following three nights will feature an array of films that were submitted to the festival, with each night’s screenings featuring around two-and-a-half hours worth of programming.

Awards will be given out in 13 categories, which include Best of Brandeis, Best Graduate or Non-Student Film, Best Undergraduate Film Under 10 Minutes and Best Undergraduate Film Over 10 Minutes.

Many of the announced nominees were films by Brandeisian filmmakers, which Berlin and Swerdlow believe are representative of just how strong the on-campus film community has become. “I’d say that we’re on-par with most of the schools I’ve seen and with half the resources,” said Swerdlow.

Audiences at the screenings will also be able to select their favorite film. Once the festival ends, audience ballots will be counted and the film with the most votes will receive the Audience Favorite Award.

The rest of the winners will be chosen by a panel of five judges, all of whom are well-versed either in filmmaking or film criticism. This year’s judges include Prof. Caren Irr (ENG), Prof. Mark Dellelo (FILM), Boston Phoenix film critic Steve Vineberg, Jon Zimmerman ’07 and Mohammad Kundos ’10.

Unlike in years past, six of the 13 categories will give cash prizes to the winners, a move which was made to encourage submissions and also to support filmmaking.

“[If someone] shot a film on a $600 budget and we give them $500 [as a prize], that has a very tangible effect [and may even go toward] their next film,” said Swerdlow.

Awards will be given out at a ceremony that is to be held on May 1.

The festival boasts events with professional filmmakers. These events include a screening of the film “Family Affair” with documentarian Chico Colvard, a panel consisting of Brandeis alumni who work in the film industry and a screening with director Tony Goldwyn.

For many, however, the reason to attend SunDeis will continue to be the camaraderie it creates within the campus filmmaking community.

“Throughout this process, you get to meet new people with fresh ideas. With all these submissions, we get a chance to share not just with people on-campus but [with a greater audience],” said committee member Leanne Ortbals ’12.

“It brings people together with film, and, at the end of the day, we all love film,” she said.