introducing the ivy film festival’s official selection
Out of the nearly 500 submissions it received, the Ivy Film Festival will air 25 student-made short films during three sessions on Friday (4:30 p.m.), Saturday (3 p.m.), and Sunday (1 p.m.) in the Granoff Martinos Auditorium. Post- spoke to Cristina Ballarini ’18 and Kripa Venkatesh ’19, the directors of the Programming division and its 21 staff members. Ballarini and Venkatesh explained the process that went into choosing the short films and what to expect of the Official Selection.
This interview transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Could you explain the selection process?
Christina Ballarini: We assign each member of our staff about three films to watch each week, they write a little review in the master spreadsheet, and, if they like anything, we bring it up and screen it at [our weekly] group meeting. Early on, we vote whether to give it a 1, 2, 3, or 4, and later on, whether we want to keep it in the selection or not.
Kripa Venkatesh: We try to encourage each person’s reviews to be on the film’s conceptual merits, technical merits, and writing and acting performances. Those are the three umbrellas we look for. Other than that, we try to encourage the staff to look at how [a film] looks in the Selection and what IFF stands to promote.
Q: Could you give an example of a film that was really important to watch as a group?
KV: [A film we discussed at the end] was Sober Octaves (shown on Friday), which is actually this visual album, which wouldn’t [normally] be seen in a film festival. The themes of the music alone and the visuals were crazy, [and] it’s actually by a group at Brown [called] Diaspora…It’s five music videos, but there are overarching themes throughout and recurring characters…and there are some really cool computer graphics in it.
Q: As you got closer to the festival, did you have a group of finalists? When did you choose the official selection?
CB: Things we felt pretty good about, we piled them on the shortlist, and once we got toward the festival, things became a little bit clearer.
KV: We actually decided our final selection right before spring break, so a month and a half ago we started getting really serious about the shortlist.
Q: Both of you have been on Programming in the past [This is Ballarini’s fourth year and Venkatesh’s third year] on staff. What has changed compared to previous years?
CB: I think there is a lot more focus on what kinds [of] things we reward as a student film festival…One thing that is cool about student films is they get to try a lots of things. It doesn’t always work…But there has been a lot more desire to reward things that don’t completely work [but] are conceptually interesting.
KV: I feel like IFF’s position has really strengthened in the past three years, so [we have] been thinking about what films would benefit from being in our selection.
Ballarani and Venkatesh cited Cry Baby (Friday), an animated short by a RISD student, Xiner Jiang, as an example of the sort of experimental work the festival is championing. Cry Baby uses cutouts of live-action people, overlaid with narration of a woman calling her mom, to create tension between the image and sound.
Q: What other films should people be paying attention to?
CB: Sin Cielo (Sunday) is this American Film Institute film, which we usually tend to be pretty skeptical of because they have these huge budgets and tend to be indulgent, but this one was so good. It’s about this border town and this romance between a young man and a young woman. There is always this presence with the town, a danger. You think there is organized crime.
V: There is a dark shadow looming that no one talks about. There is more not present in the film than there is. Eventually, it becomes devastating…I really like Life After (Saturday), a graduate film about how an Indian mother copes with her daughter’s death and finding out about her daughter’s identity.
CB: Klarinet Klub (Friday) [is] a U.S. undergraduate comedy. The official blurb is: A boy is pressured by his gynecologist father into performing a Caesarean section at his school’s talent show….It is basically about a person who loves his clarinet and his community. It is so beautiful. The production design is impeccable, and I feel like it is a style of comedy that Brown students will really jive with.
The longest film, The Little Dictator (Saturday), is 28 minutes [and] is about a Jewish professor who–through an unexpected, sort of slapstick situation–is forced to confront a dark period in history and his relation to it. The shortest is Matter Out of Place (Sunday), [which] is two minutes long and has a stop-motion feel with weird, breathy audio.
Q: Getting so many submissions, what were big themes or ideas you saw this year?
CB: This year, lots of films wrestled with identity, borders, and nation. Those were the three big ones…I remember last year, [it] was bees and children, [which] made me think that people were worried about the future because the bees were dying.
The IFF Programming staff awards a prize to the best film in each of the seven categories, while the audiences vote on an Audience Award. An panel of industry professionals chooses the top honor, the Special Grand Jury Prize. IFF films will screen its selection in Los Angeles in June and at universities both in the United States and around the world during the next school year.