SUNYWide Film Festival: Showcases incredible, independent student films

Around 200 people journeyed to Oswego State last weekend to witness the showcasing of some incredible independent student films at the seventh annual SUNYWide Film Festival.

In Oswego State’s second consecutive year as the host campus of the festival, many found it to have been a greater success than the campus’ first go-round, featuring another strong batch of selected films that go above and beyond and more events for student filmmakers to engage in. The 35 selected films were screened in different blocks on Friday and Saturday nights in the Marano Campus Center Auditorium.

In between the two nights of screening were a series of workshops on Saturday morning that focused on topics such as pursuing an MFA in film, working with 16mm film, the fundamentals of stop motion animation and pitching a screenplay. These workshops were proceeded by the “Breaking into the Business” panel on Saturday afternoon which featured insight on the film industry from screenwriters Brad Riddell and Keith Giglio, producer Magdalene Brandeis, directors Marlee Roberts and Ron Bonk, CNY Film Commissioner Erica Vinal and Oswego State alumni Robin Curtis and Mark Martino.

The festival concluded with an awards ceremony in the auditorium following the final screening on Saturday night. Here are the winners from the seventh annual SUNYWide Film Festival:
GRAND JURY PRIZE – “Waiting at the Door” (Buffalo State)
AUDIENCE CHOICE – “One Love: The Eric Tallman Story” (Tompkins Cortland Community College)
ANIMATION First Place – “Orchestrate” (Oswego State)
ANIMATION Honorable Mention – “Yakinaoshi” (Oswego State)
DOCUMENTARY First Place – “Serendipity: The Genius Behind Electric Lady” (SUNY New Paltz)
DOCUMENTARY Honorable Mention – “The Gender Glitch” (Buffalo State)
EXPERIMENTAL First Place – “No Real Distance” (SUNY ESF)
EXPERIMENTAL Honorable Mention – “Sensory Deprivation” (SUNY Purchase)
FICTION First Place – “Mime” (SUNY Binghamton)
FICTION Honorable Mention – “Part-Time Friend” (SUNY Purchase)

Based on the reception they received, it was arguable that the favorite to win both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Choice Award would be the Binghamton Film Initiative for their masterpiece and fan favorite “CUL DE SAC,” but it was indeed their “Project Nomadic” collaborator from Buffalo State, Akram Shibly who won the Grand Jury Prize. Shibly’s documentary “Waiting at the Door” was a moving, emotional piece that saw Shibly visit a number of Syrian refugee camps in Jordan, conducting interviews that gave these refugees a voice regarding the ongoing war that has displaced them from their country.

“I just want to thank the SUNYWide community for honoring this film,” Shibly said via a Facebook Live video on his page. “Because it’s not just a film that I made for prestige or fame or to entertain people, it’s really about sharing the message of the humanity of the Syrian refugees, showing a different side to things you see on the news.”

According to SUNYWide Film Festival Director Joshua Adams, news about Shibly’s big win has reached the refugees he interviewed while visiting Jordan. There are reports of them feeling grateful to Shibly allowing their voices to be heard and to the SUNYWide Film Festival for recognizing their film.

Social commentary was a recurring theme in a number of the selected films that were screened over the weekend. This included the honorable mention award winner in the documentary category “The Gender Glitch,” in which director Joan Nobile (also from Buffalo State) focused on the sexism and misogyny that female video gamers have endured over the years. This ranged from gamers being verbally abused to the oversexualized representation of female video game characters.

In Seoyoung Hong’s fiction film “Virginia” (Westchester Community College), the story focuses on numerous topics relating to gun violence in America, from mental illness, to flawed education systems and even takes on the NRA. Although his film didn’t win an award in a stacked fiction category, Hong’s message had resonated with the audience.

Resonance is what drove Chad Diamond Dann’s documentary out of Tompkins Cortland Community College “One Love: The Eric Tallman Story” to it’s surprising Audience Choice Award win over highly talked about favorites “CUL DE SAC” and “The Crypto Diaries: Part I – Lizard Man.” The documentary follows the tragic murder of Eric Tallman, a close friend of Dann’s girlfriend. Throughout the film Dann utilizes a series of home videos Tallman himself had filmed prior to the birth of his only daughter, Kaelyn Tallman. It is Kaelyn, now 14 years old, who breaks the hearts of the audience at the end of the film as she visits the grave of her late father, catching him up on her life.

“My initial reaction to winning the award was an overwhelming feeling of joy,” Dann said. “I was shaking and damn near cried but I held it together. I feel like hard work is starting to pay off and it has inspired to keep pushing forward even harder with my filmmaking. Coming from a community college I feel like getting into a big SUNY event like this shows that there is talent everywhere. We may not have the best equipment or access to facilities like the four year schools but we have just as much passion and heart for the art form as anyone else.”

One student filmmaker with an immaculate passion for film is the writer, director and star of the French-speaking fiction film “Revenir,” Xavier Avery. The story of Avery’s journey to the SUNYWide Film Festival is just as remarkable as his masterpiece of a comedy film that was screened over the weekend, which he defined as his favorite shoot.

“In the 24 hours leading up to the festival, I had traveled from Israel, to Paris, where I’m currently studying, to NYC, then in to Syracuse where I was then picked up in a shuttle car and transported to the Oswego campus,” said Avery, who was all smiles throughout the weekend. “Three countries and four cities in less than 24 hours was just the jet-lagged experience you’d expect it to be, but it later proved to be completely worthwhile and a great experience in itself. Simultaneously, traveling and stepping on-and-off planes and walking into airports of cities you’ve never been to are an experience in themselves. It’s so incredibly humbling. Everything about the festival was great, there was never a dull moment yet simultaneously nothing felt rushed or not planned entirely well enough.”

As for Oswego State, the campus swept the animation category, with alumnus Peter Myers winning first place for “Orchestrate” and claiming honorable mention for “Yakinaoshi” on behalf of fellow alumnus Jesse Malone, whom he collaborated with on the film. In what will be his final year of eligibility for the SUNYWide Film Festival, it was only right for Myers to go out on top in a category he had excelled in at the same school he excelled at. Myers seemed humbled by the entire experience as the festival allowed him to visit his old campus once again and reconnect with the community of student filmmakers around him. If anyone was best suited to represent Oswego State at the SUNYWide, it was Peter Myers.

It isn’t clear whether Oswego State will host to the SUNYWide Film Festival for a third consecutive year in 2017. In the case that 2016 is the last year, the great people at Oswego State can rest knowing that they achieved their goal of taking what started as a modest festival to new heights. When it comes to the seventh annual SUNYWide Film Festival, from SUNY Oswego, that’s a wrap.