Telluride. South by Southwest. Tribeca. Toronto. Sundance. If you were to picture the programming boards for these, or any of the countless film festivals that take place around the world, it is unlikely that you would imagine a room of 14 college students in Lewiston, Maine. But such was the reality for the first-ever Bates Film Festival, which took place this past week. Since the beginning of Winter Semester, those 14 students, led by the recently tenured Professor Jon Cavallero, worked tirelessly planning events, contacting filmmakers and distributors, viewing and discussing films, designing logos, posters, and a website, and learning about the world of film festival programming. While this was all part of a class, the end goal was to put on an actual film festival for the Bates and greater Lewiston/Auburn community, and, in doing so, offer that community an inclusive, intellectual, socially conscious event that offered entertainment, relevant messages, and endless opportunities for discussion and education, all fueled by film.
The first step in planning the Bates Film Festival (BFF for short) was designing the event’s mission. Since the festival is so closely tied to the college, the programming board looked to Bates’ mission for inspiration. From this, the programmers drew a number of ideas that would come to inform the films chosen and events planned for the five day festival: diversity, advocacy, inclusivity, awareness of and work against structural inequality, and the fostering of honest, intelligent conversation. For the students interested in film, the festival also was dedicated to connecting professionals in the movie industry with aspiring filmmakers.
With BFF’s mission established, the programming board set out to curate a festival’s worth of features, documentaries, shorts, and guest speakers to fulfill the standards set by that mission. The students set out on the daunting task of contacting filmmakers and distribution companies for films from some of the world’s biggest festivals. They spent weeks utilizing every contact and connection they could think of and ended up with a truly impressive array of films. In the end, the board selected 26 films that came out of 6 different continents (no films from Antarctica, unfortunately). There were films that premiered at Sundance, award winners from a variety of festivals, and even a few Oscar nominees. The programmers were also able to have a number of filmmakers, producers, and other professionals from the entertainment industry attend the festival, sitting on panels, talking at screenings of their films, and enriching the festival experience.
Because of the festival’s focus on contemporary social issues, there ended up being several popular themes that came through in the selected films, which then became a way to structure the different days. Thursday, the second day of the festival, was Climate Change Day, featuring the beautifully shot documentary Anote’s Ark and a follow-up panel discussing international perspectives on the issue. Friday focused on public safety and policing, with documentaries about the NYPD 12 and Frank Serpico and a discussion about the relationship between Bates Security and Bates students. Saturday was all about women in media and films revolving around female characters. It began with a remarkable panel of women from different parts of the film industry talking about their experiences and giving advice about entering the world of entertainment as a female. The final day of the festival celebrated the creative process, with live filmmaker commentary over a short film, and then a master class led by Trey Callaway: accomplished screenwriter, teacher, and Bates parent.
At the beginning of the semester, it was unclear to everyone what the BFF would turn into, but the final product was something everyone can be proud of. The students, helped by the guidance of Professor Cavallero, managed to bring in an entire schedule of critically acclaimed, thought-provoking, and discussion-inducing films and programmed a variety of panels and events to complement them. The Bates faculty and staff dedicated a great deal of time and resources to support the festival, truly making the event a production of the entire Bates community. Everyone involved worked hard and operated thoughtfully to create the BFF, and what they came up with will hopefully provide the framework for a lasting tradition of celebrating the artistic and social power of film at Bates.