Black Box Film Fest to Showcase Student Work


Movie fans and budding filmmakers will gather in Reeves Theater Saturday afternoon to attend this semester’s installment of UT’s Black Box Film Festival.

Presented by the the university’s communications department, Black Box will showcase the year’s top short films produced by students enrolled in production courses in the film and media arts curriculum. The festival will run from 2:00-5:00 p.m. and is free to attend for both students and the public.

Black Box is designed to celebrate a range of the best student work spanning from introductory courses like Sound, Image and Motion to the most advanced courses like the Senior Seminar capstone for film and video production. The festival will also include work produced for UTTV, as well as one student documentary developed during professor Christopher Boulton’s Social Justice travel course in Marrakesh, Morocco.

“We want to keep a diverse range of films,” said professor of communication, Dana Plays. “We mostly just try to pick work that we feel would represent the students well on the screen. I think it’ll be a very interesting show.”

Plays organized Black Box this semester, setting up the submission process, scheduling and booking locations. She stressed the importance of on-campus screenings for aspiring filmmakers.

“This gives students an opportunity to have a public audience. This is the first step of distribution for them outside of their class critiques,” Plays said.

Eligibility rules are simple: films must be produced by students currently enrolled at UT and must have been completed for UT course credit in spring, summer or fall 2016.

All types of film and media motion picture are qualified for entry, including but not limited to narrative, documentary, animation, experimental and music video. The goal is not to simply show the best movies, but to show the most ambitious and accomplished films from the entire array of student filmmakers, experienced or not.

After submissions stopped rolling in on Dec. 8, a panel of communication faculty judges began reviewing the films and selecting which ones to show. Judges aren’t necessarily looking for the prettiest films, but are considering creativity, storytelling, cinematography, acting, direction and student effort in their selections.

“One of the first things we look for is variety. We try to get a good mix of work that’s produced in all of our classes,” said Aaron Walker, assistant professor of communications and faculty juror for this installment of the once-a-semester festival. “It might show an emerging filmmaker, not necessarily a polished filmmaker.”

Walker served as Black Box’s primary organizer and faculty contact for the last three years and has held a seat on the faculty committee for the last six years.

“One of the most exciting parts of my job is to see the leaps in ambition and in technical merit and in storytelling… to see students who are producing better, deeper, more thoughtful, more considerate, more technically accomplished work every year. It can be a really impressive experience,” Walker said.

Since films range between two and 15 minutes in length, there is no set number of winning slots to fill. Instead, the faculty curators will try to fit in as many accomplished student works as possible during the three-hour event – Plays predicted as many as 25 films could screen on Saturday.

At the event, the selected films will undergo a second round of review in the form of audience awards. Spectators will fill out a form and winning projects will be chosen based on different genres including comedy, drama and documentary. There won’t be any additional prizes beyond the screening – Plays maintains that Black Box’s purpose is recognition, not competition. Part of the goal is to condition film students to market the work they produce at school beyond the classroom.

“Those films, the ones that get audience awards, go onto a list where we’ll encourage the students then to submit those to the other festivals that we have relationships with, that are broader public festivals,” Walker said.

So far, UT’s film and media arts students have pieces scheduled for public screening in St. Pete’s Sunscreen Film Festival and the Gasparilla Film Festival in March.

Andrew Foerch can be reached at Follow him on twitter @AndrewFoerch.

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