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New Festival Programming Course

October 31, 2016

In April, MDOCS raised $5,700 through crowdfunding from alumni and supporters to develop a student-run documentary festival. In 2016–17, Tom Yoshikami leads students in learning about festivals, planning and getting the inaugural event under way. Activities included a visit to 15 Min Max, a short film festival at the College of Saint Rose, where MDOCS films won third (Lisa Fierstein) and second (Claire Johnson) place.

Tom Yoshikami
MDOCS Instructor Tom Yoshikami

This fall, MDOCS' new "Festival Programming" course has been building the foundation for a student-run, student-programmed, inaugural student documentary festival in June 2017. The course is taught by a new member of the Skidmore and Saratoga communities, Instructor Tom Yoshikami. Tom comes from a background in film with an M.A. in film studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. With a focus in the history of art-house film exhibition, he has experience curating for cinemas, lecture series, gallery spaces and film festivals plus 10 years experience as the curator of films for the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Tom could not have been a better fit to guide the students in programming their first ever multimedia festival.

Part I of the course is focused on the history to the present of festivals, the history of art-house cinemas, current forms of media exhibition, festival evolution over the past century and more. As part of this chapter, students have attended a small regional festival called 15 Minutes Max, the College of Saint Rose and Times Union student film festival, where they were fortunate enough to see two of their classmates win jury awards for their films. Claire Johnson '18 took second place for her first-made documentary film Reina, about sexual assault, and Lisa Fierstein '16 had third prize for her film The Presence Project about an art major's capstone project working with seniors, many of whom experienced memory loss. "One of the most valuable things I gained from this experience was learning how to tell a story about your film in the application process," states Fierstein, "I also encourage students to pay special attention to when a professor send along a valuable opportunity like this one because it can never hurt to put your work out there!" she reflects on how she originally found out about the festival in class.

15 Minutes Max wasn't the only film festival Lisa's film would go on to screen with; it was first accepted to the Legacy Film Festival on Aging in San Francisco, California. Read about her experience attending the festival in San Francisco in September 2016, here.

15 Minutes Max filmmakers
"The filmmakers each briefly spoke about their work after the screening..." - Photo by Jen Davies, '17

MDOCS student and participant in the course, Jen Davies '17 (Art, Storytellers' Institute 2016), reports:

15 Minutes Max Program
Photo by Jen Davies, '17

"On October 7, the class took a trip over to the Madison Theater in Albany, New York, where the College of Saint Rose was holding their fifth annual student film festival called 15 Minutes Max. The one-hour screening featured 11 student short films, each 15 minutes or less, ranging from documentary pieces to comedic shorts and even horror films. The filmmakers each briefly spoke about their work after the screening, and the viewers even participated in an online vote to select winners for audience choice awards. The festival accepted submissions from high school and college student filmmakers within a 50-mile radius of the College of Saint Rose, and three Skidmore students had their films chosen to be screened.

"I was thrilled to see so many young filmmakers like myself standing up on stage and speaking about their work. I really enjoyed this opportunity to celebrate the creativity of my peers, and I left the event feeling encouraged and excited to both continue creating my own films as well as participate in the making of Skidmore's own festival.

"Having the opportunity to attend a festival of student work from both Skidmore and nearby communities, especially in the setting of an historic theater, was fun and thought-provoking for the students of the festival programming course as they continue gathering inspiration and ideas for Skidmore's own festival."

Festival Programming class - 15 Minutes Max
The Festival Programming class outside by the Marquee (Photo by Jen Davies '17)

The class is planning their next big trip to DOC NYC, voted one of the "top five coolest documentary film festivals in the word." By attending a variety of events at this festival, including screenings and panel discussions, students hope to continue to gain inspiration for a documentary festival of their own. They may even run into two Skidmore alumni with work screening at the festival: Scott Hamilton Kennedy's world premiere of Food Evolution (writer/director/editor) and Teddy Kunhardt's JIM: The James Foley Story, Audience Award winner at this year’s Sundance Film Festival (producer).

In Spring 2017, Part II of the "Festival Programming" course will continue with a new group of students (some returning from the fall) who will build on the knowledge and proposals of the fall class and put it into action in the spring. Students will be charged with handling everything from the nitty-gritty of submission management to the difficult decisions of curating a festival of community interest, to the logistics of displaying work.

A particular challenge of this festival is that unlike others it is not centered around one documentary medium. It will require thoughtful planning to decide how each work will be best showcased for that particular piece of work and for the audience's enjoyment. They have been given a tall order, but with the guidance of a seasoned professional and the support of the MDOCS team, they are bound to succeed in the launch of something they can call their very own.