I Dream In Widescreen Showcases UA Senior Thesis Films at The Fox Tucson Theatre

May 9, 2014

Scientists chew on just another day at the lab that turns out to be anything but in Logan Michael Smith's Confab.

Scientists ruminate on another day at the lab that turns out to be anything but in Confab, directed by Logan Michael Smith.

by James J. Jefferies

Right now, as you read this, at least one and probably more of this year’s graduating seniors of the University of Arizona’s Bachelor of Fine Arts film & video production program are still slaving over a hot workstation, making last minute editing decisions, rendering more visual effects shots, still lingering over sound design, or all the above.

They’re putting the finishing touches on what promises to be another extraordinary batch of student films, which range in variety from an anthropomorphic interplanetary romantic comedy, a documentary of intensely personal exploration shot halfway around the world, a dramatic coming of age story set in the West, to a shot of morbid black comedy, along plenty of other exciting and original visions. I Dream In Widescreen 2014 will take place on Sunday, May 18th, at 3pm at the historic Fox Tucson Theatre at 17 W. Congress.

Life, death, and Cheetos take center stage in Alexis B. Preston's One Foot In.

Life, death, and Cheetos occupy the minds of two men on the road in Alexis B. Preston’s One Foot In.

For the eighteen graduating students, this has been their lives for most of the last two and a half years, either abusing energy drinks and pulling many an all-nighter while stitching together their films in the lab, or chugging coffee while pulling 14-to-16 hour shooting days on a set. It’s been a sleep-optional rollercoaster ride through five semesters in this challenging production program, in which the available gear and budgets are quite limited, but the students regularly rise to the occasion and pull off minor cinematic miracles, especially given the kinds of hurdles that can bedevil a student filmmaker.

Dae Hyun Song, one of the graduating seniors, and his film, Draw Me Invisible, faced just such an enormous unseen challenge. “I had worked on casting the kid, the lead role, well before I had even finished my script,” said Song. Song was lucky enough to find a boy whom he found to be perfect for the role, which was critical given that the success of his film would completely hinge upon a solid child performance.

All seemed set to roll, until the day before he was to begin shooting. “I got a call from the kid’s Mom, saying that they had to drop out. I was devastated,” said Song. Thankfully, he had done extensive casting work, and managed to line up a replacement for the lead actor he could summon without too much trouble. The lesson well-learned here is to always have some kind of backup plan.

Planets need love too, in Andrew Katsinas' Spatial Recognition.

Our solar system takes on human form, in the romantic comedy Spatial Recognition, directed by Andrew Katsinas.

Amid this unpredictable student filmmaking landscape, so rife with possible talent and location issues (amongst others), these seniors have truly come to rely on each others’ strengths, and learned to be ready to wear multiple hats on one another’s projects just to get through the entire senior short film production cycle, which devours the entire Fall semester.

Shooting schedules can easily exceed one weekend of production, along with pickups and long, long hours spent in post fixing shots, rendering effects, working on looping dialogue and crafting sound design, and anything else needed to make their films the best possible expression of their ideas.

One of the emerging features of the program is that while most students still go the conventional route and direct a final senior thesis film, one can instead pursue a specific film-related skill set to satisfy the requirements of their final year. This year, three students chose to do just that, with Cooper James acting as Director of Photography on four different senior thesis films, Tanner Sherrill providing sound design for four films, and Nicholas Snell writing half-hour and one-hour television pilots as his thesis projects.

The graduating students with senior thesis films to be screened are listed below (in order of screening):

The Letdown –Ashley Foxx
Bloodlines –Christopher Nataanii Cegielski
Confab –Logan Michael Smith
Gaja –Jackie Stubbs
A Slip of the Lace –Cynthia Koiki
Remnants –Mariah Kay Day
La Graduacion –Rafael Gomez
In Love, In Theory –Stephanie Coon
Surface Hercules (music video) -Ben Montemayor
Draw Me Invisible– Dae Hyun Song
Daydream -Roxanna Ferenz
This Is Home –Jenna Faville
One Foot In –Alexis B. Preston
West -Keith Wagner
Spatial Recognition –Andrew Katsinas

One terrific new wrinkle this year comes courtesy of a new sponsor, Fancy Film, which is a Los Angeles-based post-production house. Fancy Film will award a prize to the winner of the BFA thesis film competition, dubbed the Fancy New Filmmaker Award, which includes a grant for services that will allow the winning filmmaker to professionally present their films to top international festivals on the global circuit.

A filmmaker accompanies her Korean-born mother on an unexpected journey to their ancestral homeland in Gaja, a documentary directed by Jackie Stubbs.

A filmmaker accompanies her Korean-born mother on an unexpected journey to their ancestral homeland in Gaja, a documentary directed by Jackie Stubbs.

“We’re extremely grateful to have Fancy Films on board this year. The grand prize is an exhibition and distribution package, and it’s everything a filmmaker needs,” said Associate Professor Lisanne Skyler, who oversees production on the yearly crop of senior thesis films. It’s very much the shot in the arm an artist could use at this stage of their fledgling careers, as such services do not come cheap, nor does traveling extensively to festivals in order to put oneself out there on the filmmaking map.

The University of Arizona has seen its BFA graduates’ fortunes rise in recent years, as past senior thesis films have been selected for very competitive film festivals, including Sundance, Palm Springs International ShortFest, the Aspen International ShortsFest competition, and the Los Angeles ShortsFest. Best of all, you get to witness this spectacle of explosive new cinematic talent absolutely free!

There is no cost to get into I Dream In Widescreen, but the seats tend to fill up fast, typically with a very raucous and supportive crowd. Doors open for the event at 2pm. For more information, check out the event’s page here.