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The 2009 Ivy Film Festival, which kicked off Tuesday, will showcase an array of student films and celebrity panels focusing on the art and industry of cinema.

The six-day festival plays host to a variety of high-profile professionals in the film industry. Saturday's keynote event, titled "Iconoclasts," will feature actor Jack Nicholson P'12, producer Robert Evans and Paramount CEO Brad Grey P'10 P'12. The panel will focus on the inner workings of Hollywood and new developments in filmmaking.

Saturday will also feature two other panels — one on screenwriting, with writers Simon Kinberg '95 and Scott Neustadter, and another, "Getting the Green Light: A Film's Journey from Script to Big Screen," with studio executives Lauren Levy and Steven Puri. Thomas Rothman '76 P'11 P'13, a top executive at Fox studios, will also lead a discussion on Friday.

At the same time, the core of the festival, according to its executive director, Daniel Wolfberg '09, is the student film competition.

Wolfberg and his staff received a total of 350 student submissions this year — an increase from previous years. Wolfberg attributes the jump to the festival organizers' decision to begin accepting submissions earlier, during the summer.

Screenings of the student films — which hail from universities throughout the United States and Europe — begin Friday night and will run through Saturday.

In addition to the student work, advance screenings of upcoming feature films — including an IMAX sneak preview of "Star Trek" on Friday at the Providence Place Mall — will be a major highlight of the festival.

Writer and director Robert Siegel presented his newest film, "Big Fan," last night in MacMillan 117. Centered around Paul (Patton Oswalt), an obsessive New York Giants fan who is assaulted by one of his idols, the movie explores the main character's attempt to strike a balance between maintaining his devotion to the team and accepting his trauma.

Paul finds himself both unwilling to press charges against his hero and unable to shake the feeling of being betrayed. His well-meaning family tries to spur him to abandon his pastime and grow up, but in the end, he must develop his own coping mechanism.

Siegel said in the discussion held after the screening that, though he feels characters are expected to undergo drastic change by the end of a film, he wanted to present something closer to real life. Instead of portraying characters experiencing huge changes, Siegel aimed to show that many people do not alter their lives and are happier for it.

Siegel also talked about the tone of the film, which alternates between the humorous and the dramatic. Inspired by early Martin Scorsese films, Siegel said, he never intended to make humor "the object of the scene." Instead, he wanted the realistic nature of the film and characters to reflect the natural interplay between humor and sadness.

"The humor comes from real-life situations and characters as organically woven into it," Siegel said.

Siegel also described his work as the screenwriter of 2008's "The Wrestler," his own development as a comedy and drama writer, casting and directing a film, his preference for "flawed, regular everyday characters" and his future plans for the film's distribution.

"(500) Days of Summer" will screen tonight at Avon Cinema, followed by a discussion with writer Neustadter. Max Mayer's "Adam" was given an advance showing at the Avon Tuesday.

Wolfberg said the festival's popularity, as measured by the number of submissions and attendees, has been increasing in recent years. Big-name guests like Scorsese and Oliver Stone have attracted both audience members and clout. The festival was recently profiled in Variety magazine.

"I think we've established ourselves as a quality film festival and a unique film festival," Wolfberg said. But though celebrity guests have helped the festival make its name in the film world, Wolfberg said, the focus is really on the student filmmakers and their projects, thus promoting the art of film on university campuses.

"We want to celebrate the art of film, generally, but also we want to provide a quality venue for student filmmaking," Wolfberg said.

The Ivy Film Festival runs through Sunday. All screenings and events are open to the public. Tickets for screenings are available at the Ivy Film Festival table on the Main Green or in J. Walter Wilson through today and are free for students, $5 for non-students. Tickets to "Iconoclasts" sold out yesterday, but a limited number of tickets will be raffled off at Saturday's other panel events. "Iconoclasts" will also be simulcast in Salomon 001.

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