Look Out Academy Awards — Redstone is Hot on Your Toes
Written by Alexandria Lima | Posted by: erin
For professionals toiling in the cut throat world of film, the moment of all moments is likely to be when the announcer hands them that shiny little Oscar at the Mecca of motion picture events. That moment is still on Rosita Lama-Muvdi’s radar, but for the past year, her eyes had been set on another prize — first place at Boston University’s Redstone Film Festival. “I remember when I was a freshman at BU, I had gone to my first Redstone. One of my goals ever since was to have a film and win the festival,” the recent BU graduate said. “I don’t know if it’s going to sound right when I say this, but I was so excited that I found and bought a ticket [from Los Angeles to Boston] before I even knew I made the festival.”
In its 29th year, the Redstone Film Festival has become a cornerstone of the BU film community and has students like Lama-Muvdi abuzz all year long. Viacom CEO Sumner Redstone, an honorary BU degree recipient, sponsors the annual event to which dozens of student works from film, television and video production classes qualify, but only six make the final cut.
“You can’t just make a film over the summer and enter it,” Redstone event coordinator Scott Thompson explained. During the second week of January, production and screenwriting graduate students watch all the films and select about 160 minutes of shorts that go on to a judging of industry professionals. These judges (Laura Bernieri, producer of Tin Can Film; Denise Kasell, executive director of the Coolidge Corner Theater; John Stimpson, writer and director) are then left to determine which works will screen at the main event and which three will win.
The same six films also compete in LA at the Redstone Film Festival West, making them eligible for additional cash awards and prizes.
On the night of this year’s Redstone, February 11th, searchlights outside the Tsai Performance Center shined through the night sky and a full house of professors, students, family and friends gathered for the cinematic showcase. The chair of the Department of Film and Television, Charles Merzbacher, kicked off the festival, likening this year’s batch of student works to a fine wine. “This 2009 vintage is top notch,” Merzbacher said. “It’s big, likeable, and easy to drink.”
The crowd seemed to agree, receiving the night’s opener Werewolf Trouble by graduate student Charlie Anderson with laughter. “It’s a dark comedy, but when I wrote it — and I don’t know if this comes across — I sort of intended for it to be a commentary on the way we’re inured by violence in our society,” Anderson said. His film follows a werewolf who, after a killing spree throughout the city, has not transformed back to his normal self. When asked for help, his friends are more concerned with an ongoing bet over the number of dead than fixing the situation at hand.
Despite snagging second place, $1,000 and a screening at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston on February 26th, Anderson would have liked to have taken top honors. “Obviously, nobody likes to lose. Still, I got something, I won an award and I’m glad I got to the stage I did.”
First place, and $2,000 went instead to the ambitious Sombra Azul, Rosita Lama-Muvdi’s experimental film depicting how sexual fantasies can take a turn for the worst. “Because of the subject matter and the way that it’s treated, I wasn’t quite sure exactly what to expect,” Lama-Muvdi said of the audience’s reaction. “It’s very tricky showing a film at a festival because everyone is going to interpret it differently. Somebody can do a drama and hear nothing but laughter at a screening, and that was always one of the things that I was afraid of.” Although a chuckle or two could be heard throughout the crowd during the more racy parts of the film, the shocking ending had the entire theater silent, which is what Lama-Muvdi had expected. As for the production, a large part of the video project was shot underwater, which Lama-Muvdi worried could have been very problematic. “If I didn’t have people who were committed, it would have been hard to shoot.”
Third place’s Iowa Girls, a documentary about the evolution and demise of women’s six-on-six basketball, also required a significant amount of commitment on BU graduate Donna Reyes’ part: she traveled all the way to Iowa and Kansas to shoot. “It’s about a year’s worth of work, but I shot it all in a week and a few days,” Reyes explained. For Reyes, making it into Redstone is an accomplishment in itself. Her documentary marks the first time in the festival’s 29-year history that a television production major has screened a film at the event. “It feels a little weird to showcase along other film majors,” Reyes said. “All the films that screened were amazing.”
Other student works screened on the night of the festival were Jac Woods’ A Simple Taste, a quirky romantic-comedy set in a coffee shop; The General Direction of Good, a black and white experimental short by Andrew Kightlinger; and Mind the Gap, Kristal Williams-Rowley’s drama about an MBTA conductor and his daughter who struggle with the idea of suicide.
Reflecting on the festival, Thompson described it as “a pretty incredible moment” for BU student filmmakers. Not only are they able to gauge how their films will fare with audiences, but it is a great opportunity to get the exposure students need. “Almost every single film that has won this year or has been in the screening this year is in another festival, if not a few other festivals.”
For Anderson and Reyes, that means screening their films at the Phoenix Film Festival and the NYC Downtown Short Film Festival, respectively. As for Lama-Muvdi, she is trying to work the festival circuit, including film fests in Europe. “Redstone is a great jumping off point, like a diving board, for getting this film out there,” Lama-Muvdi said. With her Redstone dream finally realized, she now is setting her sights on bigger and better things beyond BU’s campus. “I’m the type of person who will daydream about speeches at the Oscars!” she laughed.