Rover Editor takes top prize

From a Navajo reservation to a senior dogs’ shelter, from Arizona to heaven and back again, the 28th annual Notre Dame Student Film Festival brought the audience a wide range of cinematic art. Thirteen short films, ranging anywhere from about two to 20 minutes, were selected from the student-produced work of five classes in the Film, Television, and Theatre Department. After five showings between last Thursday and Saturday at the Browning Cinema in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, viewers’ votes were counted to decide the Audience Choice Award.

The screening opened with Ryan Taylor and Ben Vasquez’s “Prayer Associate,” the silent chronicle of a business-casual angel who leafs through piles of prayer requests and marks their fate with a stamp. Facial expressions and tight musical cues effectively impressed emotion, and the appearance of God as a casual woman coolly munching a donut contributed to the film’s jovial finish.

In Crystal Avila’s documentary “Debajo de los Árboles (Beneath the Trees),” the audience stepped into the heartwarming world of Jesús Villanueva, a Mexican immigrant now battling memory loss. (Editor’s Note: Crystal Avila is the Culture & Thought Editor of the Irish Rover). Avila captured the soft-spoken yet confident personality of her grandfather as he recounted his struggles as a young “illegal,” and with seamless editing, she brought his story to life by filming the exact location in Arizona where he lived outside under trees for three years. Avila’s older sister, Jasmin Avila (ND ’13), composed, played, and sang the film’s entire original soundtrack (songs include: “Pa’s Memory,” “When You Return,” and “I’m Gone”).

Other documentaries also investigated distant lands and stories. “Filtrado” (Rosie Biehl and John Salazar) explored businessman Philip Wilson’s efforts to resolve the widespread problem of water contamination in Antigua, Guatemala. While relating an exciting new development in humanitarian aid and technology, the film left viewers wanting more encounters with the villagers themselves. “Improv on the Rez” (Micaela Powers and Craig Schmier) followed a troupe of Native American comedians striving to introduce their art to their reservation. Though footage of the group roused little laughter from the DPAC audience, encounters with the lead comedian shed light on his optimism in the face of discouraging circumstances.

For the first time, the Film Festival included animated short films in the screening. The three chosen films, “Schattenvolk” (Anna Poltrack), “Who’s Hoo?” (Rebecca Mai), and “Horse Play” (Tanner Cipriano) were animatics, or “rough representations of what will become fully animated films,” according to the program. Together, they comprised a refreshing display of a distinct facet of filmmaking. “Horse Play,” a flamboyant dark comedy about a horse fleeing from a very obese child, especially incited peals of laughter through clever drawings and musical insertions.

Alex Mansour and Jessica Wilson displayed some of the best editing technique among the fiction films in “Jesse.” The short film, which followed a girl struggling to cope with the death of a brother, opened with beautiful cinematography, a rousing score, and a smooth set of opening credits. The piece really could have blossomed into a full-length movie, and as a result the mere eight minutes made the story seem rushed.  All the same, the actors demonstrated impressive skill in their all-too-brief screen time.

The screening closed with “Old Friends” (Dakota Connell-Ledwon and Matt Keough) a documentary about a sanctuary for aging dogs that easily melted audience members’ hearts. The film did a fine job of weaving the stories of several dogs together in just under nine minutes, and it offered a decent snapshot of the workers’ joys and challenges in running the organization.

Other films in the festival included “Peace at the Pipeline” (Erin Lattimer and Ryan Leen), “Colour Blind” (Rosie Biehl, Jill Chipley, and Liz Konicek), “Nothing to be Done” (Colton Williamson, Moira Hamilton, and Cody Mason), and “Take 2” (Mariel Cuellar and Meagan Snodell).

After each screening, which had a running time of about two hours, audience members texted in a code to vote for their favorite film. The Audience Choice Award was presented on Saturday night to Crystal Avila, who accepted the award in the presence of friends and family members—including her grandparents whom she had followed in her documentary. Avila thanked the audience for attending and expressed her hope that her film would inspire them to get to know their parents, grandparents, and other family members more intimately.

Sophia Buono is a junior PLS major and ESS minor. She is fascinated at the number of Oscar nominations that La La Land received, despite the fact that she hated the ending. To discuss this conundrum with her, email her at