Five Rutgers University–Newark undergraduates received quite an honor this summer when their short films screened alongside features from veteran filmmakers as part of the 8th annual Newark International Film Festival (NIFF).
Held at various venues throughout the city at the end of June, NIFF presented an array of works in multiple categories seen by thousands of moviegoers and industry professionals from all over the country and world.
The five undergraduates shot and edited their films from original screenplays as part of this spring’s Narrative Video Production class, one of many advanced-level courses offered by RU-N's Video Production Program.
They were accepted in early summer by the NIFF selection committee, whose mission is to foster young talent, especially in and around Newark, while continuing to acknowledge and expose audiences to the work of seasoned filmmakers.
Imari Thomas at NIFF in June
"I’m always impressed with the emotional maturity of our video students and how they tackle meaningful subject matter with sensitivity, insight and intelligence,” said Professor Kimi Takesume, who teaches the Narrative Video Production class and guided the students through the production and NIFF submission process. “Our students tap into the current zeitgeist and delve into material that is personal but also socially relevant. This year's narrative students distinguished themselves by executing their films with great visual flair and advanced technical execution."
RU-N’s Narrative Video Production class is an intensive workshop where students translate scripts written in a prior screenwriting class to screen. They focus on script analysis, cinematography techniques, working with actors, casting, visual strategy, staging scenes, collaborating with crew, editing aesthetics, and post-production picture and sound from rough-cut to final film.
Students must complete beginner- and intermediate-level video production courses, as well as the screenwriting class, before moving into the advanced-level workshop, where they crew for one another to enable all to fulfill their cinematic vision.
The five whose works were accepted by NIFF are (or were) all video production majors at RU-N. Their films explore dating abuse and women's portrayal in the media; alcoholism, forgiveness and redemption; a desperate search for wealth gone bad; appearance and deception between a South Asian undercover FBI agent and a hitman; and keeping depression and addiction from friends.
Voice, by RU-N senior Megan Felix, who’s majoring in Video Production and minoring in Art and Philosophy, follows a young woman named Kathy who is invited onto a podcast to talk about her relationship history. She is pressured into detailing her story of dating abuse, which calls into question the autonomy of her decision to share her story, as well as the safety of the platform that she shares her story on.
Road to Recovery, directed by Devin Santiago
“The original script of this film was birthed from my anger and frustration of the media’s tendency to sensationalize women’s suffering,” said Felix. “I wrote and directed this film specifically with Marilyn Monroe in mind, and the oversexualization and abuse she faced as a Hollywood star. Rather than being praised as a strong and beautiful woman, she is pitied as one of Hollywood’s tragedies.”
Transgression, by recent graduate Dominic Henry, who majored in Video Production and minored in film, is a short work about forgiveness and redemption revolving around Jordan, a character grappling with recovery from alcoholism and the pursuit of self-rediscovery. As he navigates the difficult process of making amends, Jordan begins to unravel the profound impact of his past actions on those closest to him, reflecting the human capacity for positive transformation.
“Inspiration for Transgression came from a desire to explore the journey of self-discovery and redemption,” said Henry. “The film delves into the universal themes of forgiveness and healing. It’s a story about the human capacity to grow and mend broken relationships, which I believe resonates with many people. As a writer and director, I aimed to create a narrative that could touch hearts and inspire viewers to reflect on their own paths to redemption.”
Voice, directed by Megan Felix
Dig, by recent Video Production graduate Imari Thomas, portrays the desperation of a pair of twentysomething Black male friends who use a metal detector to spark their get-rich-quick fantasies, only to see their friendship descend into a tragic ending.
"I felt validated upon learning my short film was nominated for the NIFF,” said Thomas, one of two female filmmakers to have her work screened at the festival. “I had an opportunity to be among like-minded filmmakers. Overall, I found the experience empowering.”
RU-N’s Video Production Program got a boost in 2017 when it moved into Express Newark in 2017, located in the former Hahne & Company department store. The program, a core instructional component of Express Newark, features a screening classrooms, a large production studio with a green screen, and state-of-the-art video equipment and editing facilities.
Takesue, who regularly teaches the capstone course in Narrative Video Production, is feeling proud of her students’ accomplishments this year and understands from her own experience how film festivals can contribute to students’ development.
"One of the most gratifying gifts for me as a filmmaker has been attending international film festivals and sharing work with fellow artists and audiences around the world,” said Takesue. “I love to help guide and support students in their film festival journeys so they, too, can receive precious feedback from audiences and have these special life experiences. NIFF makes a similar experience possible for our students."
Top photo still: PICK UP, Directed by Jaynil Patel
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Below are the RU-N student films that screened at the 2023 Newark International Film Festival:
Directed by Megan Felix
Logline: A young woman is persuaded by her classmate to detail her history with dating abuse on his podcast. Length: 11:11 minutes
TRANSGRESSION Directed by: Dominic Henry Logline: A recovering alcoholic seeks redemption and confronts past pain, exploring forgiveness and transformation in a compelling narrative of self-discoveryLength: 19:13
DIGDirected by Imari ThomasLogline: A young man and his friend decide to dig for gold as a way to get rich quickly, however, they're friendship might not survive the dig.Length: 16:57 minutes
PICK UPDirected by: Jaynil PatelLogline: When a South Asian FBI agent posing as a talkative Uber driver tries to thwart an assassin's hit job, tensions rise as secrets are uncovered and a deadly game of cat-and-mouse ensues in this comedic thriller.Length: 15:14 minutes
ROAD TO RECOVERY
Directed by: Devin SantiagoLogline: A young man grappling with depression and alcohol addiction seeks solace in the company of his friends, yet chooses to keep his inner turmoil concealed from them.Length: 15:58