Film stars

Four winners were chosen from the 24 entries in to the Penn Student Film Festival. Front, from left, winners Alden Hallak, Yuhui Ma, Chris Powell and Amanda Prager. Rear, Ryan Keytack of College Houses and Academic Services, and Nicola Gentili of Cinema Studies.

The Penn Student Film Festival celebrated collaboration and creativity with a red-carpet gala and big-screen showing of eight finalists, chosen from 24 entries, at the New College House Wednesday evening. 

The films were in a variety of genres and focused on several topics familiar in college life. 

The first-place film, “Coffee Break,” was produced by senior Amanda Prager, a Cinema and Media Studies and English double major. The comedy depicted a young man’s surreal dream of breaking up with his girlfriend in a coffee shop. 

“I think Penn has a burgeoning creative community with film and in the arts,” says Prager, who is from Short Hills, N.J. “Festivals like these are creating a trend at Penn, which I really appreciate. It gets better and better. This year in particular was the best year I’ve seen.” 

Adding to the ambiance, this year Penn Dining provided a special surf-and-turf dinner beforehand, and a popcorn machine and drinks during the movie screening attended by more than 50 people.

The students help each other with their films, perhaps producing one, directing another, and acting in a third, says Nicola Gentili, associate director of the Cinema Studies Department.

“There is an incredible way of the students really collaborating and being a great help for each other that is something that is beautiful to see,” says Gentili, who himself had his debut as an actor in the film “Old Man Henderson,” a finalist this year. 

The eight finalists were chosen from the two dozen films submitted, four selected from those screened and judged Monday at Gregory College House and four from Tuesday at Harrison College House. On Wednesday night, three winners were selected by a panel of graduate students, faculty, and staff, and one was chosen by the audience. 

All genres were accepted for the festival, including documentary, comedy, drama, animation, musicals, and even film analysis. The films had to be made this school year, be no longer than eight minutes, and not contain any offending material. 

Most of the students who made the films are involved in cinema and media studies or fine arts, but the contest is open to all students. 

“We understood there was an urge, a dream, among students to make a movie,” Gentili says. “It has become a big happening.” 

The festival’s origins trace back to the establishment of the cinema-studies major in 2004 when a group of students got together to hold an event at the Quad to show short films they created. Ten years ago, College Houses and Academic Services became the main sponsor of the film festival, organizing the event and providing prizes to the winners. 

Gentili says that the quality of the filmmaking has “increased tremendously” during the years, both in the storytelling and in the way the movies are shot. 

Penn’s cinema studies courses focus on film history, theory, and analysis, he noted, not on film production. But Penn does offer video production classes, as well as animation, through PennDesign’s Fine Arts Department, he says. 

“The art of writing combined with the art of filming, directing, editing, and managing the movie, it is something that is going to be important for their futures,” Gentili says. “The films they create are a great opportunity to show their abilities.”