If you've ever had classes in Sills, you may have taken a closer look at the wall next to Smith Auditorium. There, in two rows, hang 17 plaques, announcing the titles of films that won annual awards like Best Picture and Best Documentary from the 70s to the early 90s. But these were not Hollywood productions; they were student films. The wall in Sills Hall displays the twenty-year legacy of the Bowdoin film festivals?one that Benjamin Cope-Kasten '06, with the help of fellow film buffs Ivan Polito '06, Carolyn Hicko '08, and Gabe Kornbluth '08, is hoping to revive.
"I've always been surprised that there's not a forum for [showing student films] here," said Cope-Kasten, an avid movie fan who made short films all through high school. "So I said I'm going to do it and I'm going to make sure it's going to happen this year."
Sponsored by the Class of 2007 and the Bowdoin Film Society, the Bowdoin Film Festival, to be held Sunday in Smith Auditorium in Sills Hall, will screen three-minute films from at least seven submitted films from Bowdoin filmmakers and award prizes in the four big film categories?Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Actress.
"We even ordered some mini Oscar statues," Cope-Kasten said.
Professor of Film Studies Tricia Welsch, who does not teach film production, has put in a request to the Curriculum and Education Policy committee to hire a new professor who does. Until that happens, she said, the department is not equipped to award academic credit for student productions.
Yet this has not stopped a number of Bowdoin students from getting creative with a camera on their own time.
Thompson M. Colkitt, adviser to the Bowdoin Film Society and one of four festival judges, along with Professor Welsch, Bart of Bart and Greg's, and Orient film reviewer Monica Guzman '05, was sure filmmaking at Bowdoin was a "dead issue" after film production dropped off the curriculum in 1994.
"Color me surprised when last fall I became aware of multiple student films in production without course affiliation," he said. "I am most anxious to see what students have been up to...for the pure joy of creation."
Barbara Kaster, professor emerita in the English department, founded and ran the original film festival from 1974 until her departure from Bowdoin in 1994, screening and awarding films produced by students in her film history course.
"I'm just thrilled that the students are doing this," Kaster said of the new festival in a phone interview from her home in Florida.
An amateur filmmaker herself, Kaster made film production mandatory in her class. The annual festival and awards show came at the end of the semester. "The purpose was to let the public see the films, because they were startlingly good," said Kaster. "What students learned was just massive in the way they approached films the rest of their lives."
The "Bowdoin Film Society Awards Night," as it was called in its heyday in the mid-80s, was no small-time show. Local filmmakers and cinema owners were brought in as judges. Their ballots were guarded by the president of the College in strict secrecy until the big night. Hollywood-style spotlights marked the entrance to Pickard. There were opening song and dance numbers. The production required a full theater tech crew. Everyone dressed up?some even came in limos.
And oh yeah, a whole lot of people showed up.
"A year in Smith was so jammed we violated the fire code," Kaster said. So the next year she moved it to Kresge. "And then we had to move it to Pickard."
So just how big was it?
"Tickets would be available at 8:00 a.m. on a given Friday. They were gone by 8:15 a.m." Kaster said. "Students camped out in front of Moulton Union the night before. Some with tents."
It's no wonder today's film students get a little nostalgic.
"For years I've had classes in Sills and passed by those framed programs from the student film festivals of past years, and always wished that we still had it at Bowdoin," said Matt Lajoie '05, a film studies minor whose part drama, part comedy, part avant-gard film, Legion vs. Lions, was conceived "entirely in the half-sleep waking moments of one particular morning in February."
News of the new festival inspired Lajoie to revive his high school filmmaking habits. "[It] gave me the motivation to go ahead and work at completing a short film, since I knew it would be shown?and on a big screen at that," Lajoie said.
Sophomore filmmakers Nick von Keller and Anton Handel, who are "tremendously excited" about the festival, submitted a film about, of all things, a student who thinks he might be trapped in a movie.
"It's like one big Ironic T-Shirt skit," they said. And no wonder. Von Keller, Handel, and fellow filmmakers Adam Paltrineri and Dan Yingst are all members of Bowdoin's notorious sketch comedy troupe.
"We were originally going for a classier Garden State/Royal Tenenbaums sense of humor, but it ended up much more like Airplane," they said. "Luckily, we like Airplane."
Girls are also getting in on the fun. Sarah Moran's '05 film, Strike, a "bowling murder mystery," is a silent film set to tunes from The List Exists. "You could say it doubles as a music video," Moran said. As an art history major and avid artist through other media, Moran said her focus is on photography, "on color and images as patterns."
"All the films are amazing," said Cope-Kasten, who has already seen most. "Hopefully this will open people's eyes to a form of art and media that people are engaged in on this campus."
He gave no indication of letting another 20 years slip by before doing it all again.
"I hope it will become a tradition. I know I'll do my best to make it happen next year," Cope-Kasten said.
In the meantime, there is still plenty of wall space in Sills for more cool plaques.