Celebrating students and their work as directors, producers and composers, this film festival displays their creative talents.
TU’s film department hosted its annual student film festival on Sept. 29, bringing together current and past students to celebrate their accomplishments. After being moved from its original location on Harwell Field due to the rain, the festival took place inside of LPC where visitors could watch several student films and ask filmmakers questions about their work. Each year, the film department pulls standout films from years past to screen alongside films made by current students. “We’d like all our students to have a sense of the tradition they are joining as they develop their own voices,” explained Wellspring Associate Professor of Film, Jeff Van Hanken.
This year, the festival included films ranging from a comedic retelling of online dating to a post-apocalyptic thriller. This included films made by current students like Sam Modde, a senior studying film studies and media studies, who worked with Sam Gottsch and Karsh Jin on a film for Professor Michaela O’Brien’s Introduction to Filmmaking course. The group created “Howdy, Jin,” following the life of a college freshman from China as she prepares for her first day of class in the United States. With its charming storyline, “Howdy Jin” was filled with compelling characters that immediately had me emotionally invested.
Kyleigh Taylor, a junior music composition major with an emphasis in film scoring, also worked on one of the films featured in this year’s festival. Cross-department collaboration brought student filmmakers and composers together on several pieces. Taylor worked with Madison Phelan to create “Taking Care,” a thoughtful and intimate meditation on family and intergenerational relationships. “As a composer, my job is to create a musical atmosphere that is able to carry the narrative of a film along,” Taylor explained. Because Taylor received Phelan’s film without any sound, she was given the freedom to create an accompanying score that really brought the scenes to life.
Another student director whose work was featured was Julia Grantham, a film studies and economics senior who worked in the art department on a production made by local company Red Clay Studios. Grantham filmed her piece, “Welcome Back,” last semester for Van Hanken’s narrative film production class in the midst of COVID-19 restrictions. “It was imperative that we adhered to CDC guidelines, so I filmed primarily in my sister’s apartment. I was the lone crew member and my cast was comprised of my mom and sister.”
Senior Aubrey Allen, a film studies and music double major, worked with Grantham to create a score for her film. Grantham praised Allen’s creativity, explaining she created a “beautiful score that really encapsulated the heart of ‘Welcome Back.’”
Allen went on to think back on her experiences at TU. “I never thought that I would have any interest in composing before I started at TU,” Allen described. Attesting to the excellence of TU’s faculty and departmental collaboration, Allen praised film and music professor Dr. Rivers for his encouragement and expertise. “It’s an absolute honor and pleasure to study underneath Dr. Rivers, who is an overall amazing person, and alongside my wonderful and talented peers.”
Film Studies graduate Drew Allen attended this year’s festival to answer questions about his short film, “The Musical,” which has been a favorite of the department for years. A catchy and upbeat film following Charlie (played by Drew Allen) as he works up the courage to ask out his longtime crush on the last day of school, “The Musical” was filmed on TU’s campus. After writing and directing “The Musical” with his brother Alex Allen, the film was named a Regional Semi-Finalist in the 2008 Student Academy Awards. This prestigious commendation made “The Musical” among the top 15 films chosen in one of the three regions in the country. Another recent graduate, film studies and economics student Richie Davis, was also in attendance at the event. Recognized as a finalist both at the 2020 Oregon Short Film Festival and 2020 Austin Under the Stars Festival for scripts written in TU courses, Davis’ accomplishments attest to the success of the department and its students.
The film department at TU has created a space for students to not just learn the intricacies of the art form, but also to learn practical skills. “While storytelling, and visual storytelling in particular, are first and foremost what we teach in the TU Film Department, learning how to manage resources is also a critical feature of what we do,” described Van Hanken. “The most brilliant script will likely fall apart if the pre-production is sloppy or lacking. Those skills prepare a student for almost any industry.”
Tulsa is an excellent space to get more involved in film. Off campus, Circle Cinema hosts events and screens movies with discounts for students at $2 Tuesdays. The reinvigorated film club on campus brings students together to casually watch movies outside the classroom and talk about their experiences. In the spring, the film department will host another festival of student work juried by alumni in the film industry around the country. The fall film festival was truly a testament to the diversity of accomplishments students have made and a hint at the potential they have to create in the future.