Arts & Culture

Big names from big screen visit College Hill

By
Contributing Writer

Last week, the 11th annual Ivy Film Festival temporarily brought Hollywood to campus. Every year, the Ivy Film Festival features a selection of student films, advanced screenings and Q&A sessions with visiting industry professionals at various venues around Brown’s campus.

Co-Executive Directors Travis Bogosian ’13 and Caleigh Forbes ’13 have worked since last spring with a dedicated team of students to select student films from national and international submissions and to make big names such as rising star Lena Dunham, iconic producer, director and screenwriter Barry Levinson and award-winning actress Laura Linney ’86 readily available to the student body.

Family affair

Following an advanced screening of the first two episodes of her new HBO series “Girls,”  writer, director and actress Dunham spoke to a full house in Salomon 101 about sex scenes in her show, misogyny in Hollywood and what it was like working with her family in her feature film “Tiny Furniture.”

Dunham announced at the beginning of the Q&A that her goal was to embarrass her little sister Grace Dunham ’14, who was in the audience and who starred as Dunham’s sister in “Tiny Furniture.”

Dunham, who graduated from Oberlin College in 2008, writes a lot about the difficult transitional period between college and getting a job. In fact, “Girls” opens with Hannah, played by Dunham, at a dinner with her parents, when her mom announces that she will no longer financially support her daughter. The issue was a poignant one for an auditorium full of college students.

“Girls,” also produced by Judd Apatow and Jenni Konner, premiered on HBO Sunday night.

The returning graduate

Last Tuesday, Linney (“The Big C,” “The Truman Show”) appeared before a mostly filled Granoff Auditorium for a Q&A moderated by Lowry Marshall, professor of theatre arts and performance studies, before answering audience questions.

A major theme of the talk was Linney’s cross-medium work. She is experienced with productions on the stage, in film and currently on television in her acclaimed Showtime series “The Big C.” Linney said her capacity to adapt to unfamiliar experiences began during her time at Brown. “My approach to things started here,” she said. “You have to allow yourself to suck so you can learn.”

Linney said she initially had no ambitions for television or film but that she strayed from theater out of curiosity. Answering questions about topics such as dealing with celebrity culture – which she said she was too old to care about – and learning as you go, her humility shone through.

“I hate watching myself,” she said. “I hate it, I hate it, I hate it, which is inconvenient when you’re the producer of your own TV show.”

Linney admitted that she did not party much at Brown because the party scene scared her. But she said being back on campus was an emotional experience, and she told the audience, “You have no idea how lucky you are to be here.”

Found footage

The festival premiered an advanced screening Thursday night of Oscar-winning TV and film producer, director, screenwriter and actor Barry Levinson’s (“Rain Man,” “Good Morning Vietnam”) new documentary-style horror movie “The Bay,” which is still in post-production.

The showing, which took place at Avon Cinema last Thursday, was a rare opportunity for about 100 students and Providence locals to view an unreleased film as an unfinished product.

Levinson even apologized at the beginning of his Q&A following the movie screening for the messy sound dynamics, a subtlety that did not detract from the film.

“The Bay,” originally conceived as an actual documentary and inspired by the statistic that 40 percent of Chesapeake Bay is a dead zone, is a found footage horror film about Isopods that literally eat the citizens of a quiet New England town from the inside out. Levinson teamed up with some of the producers of “Paranormal Activity,” one of the films that sparked the recent popularity of the found footage genre, which is shot to appear as if the footage were captured accidentally.

Levinson said found footage allowed for more creative freedom, such as a police car camera filming several blocks of driving in one extended shot. The movie, which was captured with a miscellany of mostly consumer-grade video cameras, including iPhones, was filmed in a mere 18 days.

The screening – the first time the film was shown publicly – gave Levinson one of his first opportunities to gauge audience reaction to help him further polish the film.

Up-and-coming

While the student film screening blocks are often severely under-attended, especially during the week, they can be the most overlooked aspect of the Ivy Film Festival, especially this year.

“Usually I’m really excited for the big-name guests, because it’s always like, ‘Oh my god, whoever is coming! Awesome!’” Bogosian said. “But this year (the student films) were amazing. At first I was concerned that they weren’t made by students because they were so good.”

Student filmmakers submitted their work to a number of categories, including comedy, animation, documentary, drama, experimental, graduate-level and international.

The festival winners were announced at an awards ceremony Saturday evening attended by staff, student filmmakers and their families. The results are now posted on the Ivy Film Festival website.

For the first time, the festival hosted two showings of each student film selection, divided into three blocks of back-to-back screenings. Each block was screened once during the week and once on the weekend. Bogosian and Forbes said they hoped this would allow more students a chance to see these films.

The Programming staff, the branch of the Ivy Film Festival that screens and selects from hundreds of s
tudent films submitted, said there were three or four submissions this year that were at the same quality as last year’s winner, Bogosian said.

Last year, a few films that were first screened at the Ivy Film Festival even went on to be featured in other film festivals and venues, such as the prestigious Nantucket Film Festival.

“This is hopefully a first step for a lot of (students),” Bogosian said. “It’s like, ‘I made a film, it’s really good. Now people can start seeing it and I can get my first award, and that first award can maybe get other people into it.’”

North by northeast 

In addition to the many speakers and student films featured throughout the week, the Ivy Film Festival brought a few Sundance and South by Southwest selections to Brown for advanced screenings.

Aside from Levinson’s “The Bay,” feature film screenings included “The Invisible War,” a haunting and deeply disturbing documentary directed by Kirby Dick that investigated the discounted epidemic of sexual assault in the U.S. military. “Sound of my Voice,” a film by Zal Batmanglij, follows an investigation by a journalist and his girlfriend into a cult leader who claims to be from the future. “The Atomic States of America,” a documentary by Don Argott and Sheena Joyce about growing up in the nuclear-reactor community of Shirley, N.Y., was followed by a talk with the film’s producer, George Hornig P’13.

The last event of the film festival was Sunday’s screenplay luncheon in Faunce House with the Colin Stanfield and Bill Curran of the Nantucket Film Festival. The winner of the Feature-Length Screenplay category was “Colors,” by Cornell’s Wybren de Vries. “Plop Plop Fizz Fizz,” by Armando Vazquez of Emerson College, won best Undergraduate Short Screenplay, and Christina Hunt’s “We Buried our Spirits,” also from Emerson, won the category of Graduate Short Screenplay.

The festival culminated in a party at Providence club Bravo downtown Saturday night.