Rider students get star struck with trip to film festival

Graphic by Mackenzie Emmens

By Emily Klingman

Two Rider students rubbed elbows with stars and networked with industry professionals at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) earlier this month.

Senior English major Alyssa Belardo and senior public relations major Debbie McFetridge were two of 30 college students selected in the U.S. to be a part of the Film Festival’s student program. The program is a three-day symposium emphasizing film appreciation, criticism and analysis. In addition, the students were also able to attend many of the festival’s events and panel discussions through priority access.

Beginning on the night of Feb. 2, they were first able to attend the Maltin Modern Master Award honoring Denzel Washington at the Arlington Theater.

The following day was full of opportunities to meet industry professionals, including Roger Durling, the executive director of SBIFF and Nico Maestu who navigated the group through their time at the festival. Later, they met prolific film editors Artie Schmidt, who edited films such as the Back to The Future trilogy and Forrest Gump, and Richard Harris, who worked as an editor on Titanic. During their meeting, they discussed the old process of editing films and their personal transitions in integrating new technology to their work.

McFetridge said that the experience became “a wonderful networking opportunity.”

“We met some great people who were interested in connecting with us, and they also offered us advice on how to get more involved in the film industry,” she said.

“[The program] gives our students an opportunity to see the newest films, among them many high-quality independent productions that don’t necessarily receive wide theatrical release,” said Cynthia Lucia, English professor and director of the film and media studies. “These are films that serious film students should see and know about.”

The group also had the opportunity to see a seminar on independent filmmaking, including filmmakers Courtney Balaker, director of Little Pink House; Susan Johnson, director of Carrie Pilby; Paul Shoulberg, director of The Good Catholic; and David Heinz, director of September 12th.

“My favorite screening we viewed was La La Land, and after the screening, the director Damien Chazelle came into the room for a Q&A,” said Belardo.

“Chazelle told us that he wrote La La Land years ago,” McFetridge said. “He wanted Gosling and Stone from the beginning but didn’t expect that to actually happen. It was really inspiring to see how he was able to make his dreams come true through hard work. I didn’t realize before how long the filmmaking process is or that a screenplay is often written years before it is made into a film.”

Saturday night, the group attended the tribute at the Arlington of the Virtuosos Award honoring many actors for their work, including Aaron Taylor Johnson for Nocturnal Animals, Dev Patel for Lion, Janelle Monáe for Hidden Figures and  Moonlight, Mahershala Ali for Moonlight and Ruth Negga for Loving.

The next morning, the group attended a seminar on social justice in documentary formats, featuring filmmakers Derek Wayne Johnson, director of John G. Alvidesn: King of the Underdogs; Bobbi Jo Hart, director of Rebels on Pointe; and Bartle Bull, director of Cradle of Champions. They then attended the Cinema Vanguard Award at the Arlington honoring Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams later that night.

Since sending Belardo and McFetridge to the festival, Lucia hoped the experience opened their eyes to films beyond the mainstream studio productions, plus “the ways in which film festivals expose audiences to new work and enable filmmakers to gain exposure.”

Students who are interested in finding experiences like the Santa Barbara Film Studies Program should look into studying the aspects of film history and where the industry is today. Lucia also encouraged students to join the film and media studies program’s first-ever film and media studies career night on Rider’s Lawrenceville campus on March 30 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

“These professionals will speak about their work, how best to prepare and how best to enter the field,” said Lucia. “Students should also seek out and attend the many local film festivals within reach like the Trenton Film Festival, The Garden State Film Festival in Atlantic City and the film festivals held every year in New York and Philadelphia.”

“It was a full experience of hearing directors, writers and producers as well as actresses and actors profess their love of their careers,” Belardo said. “I’m so happy for the opportunity and I would do it all again.”


Originally published in the 2/15/17 edition. 

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