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Cinema Studies in the News

Student Shorts Selected for Nashville Film Festival

The Nashville Film Festival features films from around the world and is one of the oldest film festivals in the country. It is highly prestigious and an Academy Award qualifying festival for short films. Of the nearly 5,000 submissions for the 2018 festival, only 215 were selected. Two of those are films created by students in the UT Cinema Studies program.

Crue Smith
Crue Smith
Mason Griffin
Mason Griffin 

“This is the fourth year in a row that undergraduates taking Cinema Studies courses offered in the School of Art have had their shorts selected for the festival,” says Paul Harrill, associate chair of Cinema Studies and associate professor in the School of Art. “This is a highly selective festival. Acceptance rates are sometimes in the single digits.”

Crue Smith and Mason Griffin, both seniors in the Cinema Studies program, produced Two-Fifty, a short film about a pool hustler with a disability who teaches a young prodigy how to hustle, in Harrill’s Narrative Filmmaking course.

“As someone with cerebral palsy, I wanted to make a movie about a character that had to adapt to a disability,” says Smith, writer and producer. “I also love film noir and wanted to make something within the genre.”

Before they got started on the film, however, Smith made sure Griffin knew what films influenced his writing.

“He sat me down and made me watch Rossen’s The Hustler, Scorsese’s The Color of Money, and various film noirs,” says Griffin, director of photography and editor. “This influenced the film’s style to a great degree. It gave me a clear vision of how the camera should move, what the quality of light should look like, and how it should be cut together.”

Neither knew what the film would become or that it would end up being black and white, but both are excited to see the film debut at the Nashville Film Festival.

John McAmis produced his short – Qwerty – as his College Scholar senior thesis. He graduated from the program in spring 2017. His first animated short, The Van, had its world premiere at the 2016 Nashville Film Festival.

Qwerty is about a young boy who envisions himself as an inventor, but he is more of a tinkerer. After suffering a horrible loss, he takes solace in repairing an antique typewriter. The film follows his process from finding spare parts to writing a letter.

“The film started, as most animated films do, very, very differently,” McAmis says. “The original idea had too many moving parts, so I centered the story around one of my favorite contraptions – the typewriter. I love the cumbersome, clunky, loud machines. They have several moving parts, but require zero electricity to function. The only thing that powers a typewriter is creativity.”

Creativity also powers McAmis and students in the Cinema Studies program.

“There’s something about movies and cinema that transcend all the other arts,” McAmis says. “For me, animation transcends live action film because you can do anything – make a story, show anyone’s life – without the restriction of live-action budgets or headaches. The only real restriction with animation is the question of how great of an artist you are. To me, animation is one of the greatest art forms. It lends itself to any story, any culture, and any way of life. All you need is a pencil and paper.”

Telling stories through film is what attracts Smith to cinema studies and film production.

“I have a need to tell stories and enjoy working within the medium,” Smith says. “It’s important because stories are how we make sense of the world. Movies are one of the most accessible storytelling art forms.”

Griffin finds magic in the film industry. Since he was a boy, he has worked in film and video production.

“My parents supported my excitement for making movies, and tolerated what I put together, which got me to where I am today,” Griffin says. “Personal expression comes from art, and film is the medium that resonates with me the most. There’s something magical about just sitting down and being absorbed by a story curated by a variety of artists. Film is inherently collaborative. That’s what makes it special.”

Harrill is excited to see his students’ work featured at such a prestigious festival.

“This outside validation reflects well on our students and our young program,” Harrill says. “Cinema Studies is a major that challenges students to develop critical thinking, creative expression, and technical skills. In our media-saturated society, it’s an incredibly useful major.”

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