Animated short by Chris "Stoph" Daniel.
A few minutes after 7:30, when the North Texas College Film Festival was scheduled to start, the screen was as blank as it had been at 7:15 or 7:00. Sporadic bits of sound had come through the Dallas Angelika's speakers, but nothing had registered on the screen.
Finally, a man with gray hair and black frame glasses walks to the center of the auditorium. His name is Bart Weiss, and he's an associate professor with UTA, as well as the artistic director for Dallas VideoFest. He's also one of this evening's organizers, along with Carolyn Macartney of SMU and Tania Khalaf of UNT.
There's a problem with the projector, Weiss explains.
"We are trying many, many things, but as you can see..." He turns and gestures at the screen. Not to be outdone, he tells everyone to take the chance to meet someone they don't know. "This is about trying to build community," he adds.
And over the next couple of hours, as the students in the room turn in their seats to chat, and then finally, as the lights dim and the screen comes to life, a sense of that happening was unmistakable.
Six projects from SMU were screened, including a short documentary about a young gymnast, a humorous film about a young man stalked by a monster made of his own laundry, and a short from Juan Vargas called Verspertine's Dream. Vargas' project was filmed with a 16mm camera and told the story of a teenage girl getting revenge on her mom's boyfriend or new husband for his creepy advances.
Only three films from UTA were screened, but they were among the best of what was an outstanding collection overall. The first of the three, a short from Nate Kantor called Latent, follows a young photographer as she interacts with a homeless man, also a photographer. Between five to 10 minutes long, it packed the kind of emotional punch it would otherwise take an entire feature to reach.
UNT screened the highest number of shorts (nine total), but many of them were trailers for full-length documentaries still in production. One of them, an observational documentary called Vermilion Cliffs, focuses on a nursing home that cares for patients with advanced dementia. You can see it, too. It was selected to screen at this year's DIFF.
Following each school's selections, the student filmmakers were invited up to the front to say something about their film or to answer a brief question.
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The evening ended with an invitation to continue the night over drinks at a local bar, where the students could get the know each other better and perhaps form bonds that would transcend their schools.
"This couldn't happen in any other city," Weiss says to me afterwards, over the chatter of students networking and laughing on their way out of the Angelika. He lists film friendly cities like New York and Austin. "You couldn't get the teachers together."
It was between a group of teachers that the idea for the North Texas College Film Festival was hatched 12 years ago. They wanted to bridge the gaps that separated them and their students to create, as Weiss said earlier that night, a sense of community. In other cities, programs look at one another as rivals, but here in Dallas, a different spirit exists--among the teachers at least.
"My department chair thinks of them as the competition," Weiss says, referring to Macartney and Khalaf. "I think of them as my friends."