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Friday, Feb. 23, 2024
The Observer

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Scene Selections: The best of Notre Dame’s 2024 Student Film Festival

Notre Dame’s Film, Television and Theatre students put Sundance to shame with the 35th annual Notre Dame Student Film Fest last weekend. With a diverse group of work — ranging from documentaries to dramatic shorts — this showcase demonstrates the creativity and wit of the Notre Dame student body. Working within the constraints of the semester, FTT majors rose above expectations and blew away the audience with “Confishion.” All the films this year were fantastic — we just don’t have space to review them all. Kudos to the budding filmmakers at Notre Dame!

“After The Race” (Paulina Rey, Claire Schaffler, Joyce Fu)

If you know anything about sled dog racing, you’ve probably heard of the famed 1,000-mile Iditarod race in Alaska. This short documentary takes viewers into what happens after a sled dog’s time running the famed Iditarod is over. It follows the head of an adoption agency that looks to place retired pups for the rest of their lives. Shot on location in Anchorage, Alaska, the documentary has some breathtaking landscapes and some emotional moments that bring tears to your eyes. — José Sánchez Córdova, Assistant Managing Editor

“Nearness of You” (Josh Vo)

Shot using mostly camcorder footage, “Nearness of You” is a filmmaker’s goodbye to the friends and the love that made moving away to London so hard. Completely lacking dialogue, Vo’s narrative is transmitted through the use of written notes on a white board, reminiscent of the intertitles of the silent film era. His use of old footage from rehearsal and time spent with the people he is saying goodbye to carries the film’s emotional weight. This is especially true when it comes to the girlfriend he is leaving behind. When he arrives in London and the dynamic flips — he is the one watching a goodbye video now — it hits like an emotional truck, leaving the viewer to ponder the weight of the goodbyes we’ve just seen. — José Sánchez Córdova, Assistant Managing Editor

“A Dash of Paper & A Pinch of Spice” (Joyce Fu, Julian Gamboa)

“A Dash of Paper & A Pinch of Spice” manages to provide a nuanced glimpse into what it’s like to live and love with OCD. At first, our leading man walks across paper bags to avoid the floor, and that’s just one sign of his condition. He goes to the grocery store and rearranges the spice rack while another customer looks on, her face changing from curiosity to understanding in a few short moments. Instead of moving into a miraculous “quick fix” brought about by love, the film cuts to an intimate moment between the two, who are now a couple, as the woman pulls our man up from the couch to dance, and he steps onto the floor without his paper bags. That’s the entire film, but the slow-dancing and a nearby planner (which lies open to the man’s therapy schedule) give us reason to have hope for the couple as well as anyone else living with OCD. — Cozette Brown, Scene Writer

“The Ballad of Bart” (Victoria Dominesey, Ian Oh)

In the opening scene, you can tell that the guy sketching for us is a pretty good doodler — but that’s not the only surprise. In this portrait full of raw passion and vulnerability, a man named Bart discloses a little bit of everything from his life, including his time in the military, his experience going to prison for drug dealing and his relationship with his wife (who’s called “Love Goddess” in his phone). “The Ballad of Bart” takes the pieces of Bart’s life and skillfully arranges them into a touching narrative that shows how life unfolds in funny ways. After all, Bart says, he wouldn’t have found his life’s passion — music — or taken up illustrating, had he never gone to prison. I came to believe wholeheartedly in Bart by the end, and I think this film has the power to make you believe in yourself and all of humanity a little more, too. — Cozette Brown, Scene Writer

“Lost And Not Found” (Elizabeth Maroshick, Isabel R Maiz)

Dealing with difficult themes of domestic abuse and childhood trauma, “Lost And Not Found” is difficult to watch. But that’s because it wants to be. The film unapologetically confronts the viewer with the ugliness of an abusive relationship and the impact it has on the couple’s daughter. The mother looks to protect her daughter from the violence through innocent games of hide and seek, but when the mother passes away the daughter is left to deal with her grief and pick up the pieces of her broken household as best she can. — José Sánchez Córdova, Assistant Managing Editor

“Bajo El Sol” (Micaela Alvarado, Ryan Lin)

”Bajo El Sol” follows immigrant street vendors in Santa Ana, California, providing glimpses into their work and aspirations. The filmmakers weave together clips of a vendor searching out and serving customers with intimate interviews of him, his wife and his wife’s cousin, who is also a vendor. The conversations are strikingly honest and all almost entirely in Spanish, which provides an opportunity for English-speaking audience members to recognize and, with subtitles, cross the language barrier. The thesis of the film comes from one of the vendors as he talks to the interviewers during a car ride: “And I’m just like you.” “Bajo El Sol” is an inviting, impactful testament to the humanity of the immigrants it chronicles. — Ayden Kowalski, Scene Writer

“The Mayor Of Idyllwild” (Ben Bailey, Riley Mandell)

Sometimes a true leader of men isn’t human at all. “The Mayor of Idyllwild” introduces Max, the golden retriever who happens to hold the title of mayor in the small community of Idyllwild, California, as well as the married couple who cares for him. The film shows previous national and, in a surprising development, international coverage of Max, as well as the creativity of other Idyllwild residents, with a man legally named Santa Claus and the “Idyll-Beast” leaving a particularly strong impression. Ultimately, Max is a unifier within a contentious political climate, a rare (and furry) example of a community finding inspiration and joy in politics. — Ayden Kowalski, Scene Writer

“Island Zero” (Ryan Broussard, Josh Sisolak)

“Island Zero” follows James Eskridge, mayor of Tangier Island, Virginia. It profiles the challenges that face the small island community in the middle of Chesapeake Bay. Victims of climate change, many of the island’s residents, including Eskridge, believe the island’s land loss is mostly a product of erosion. The documentary spends significant screen time interrogating the contradiction that exists in a largely climate-skeptic community that is actively suffering the effects of climate change. The film was shot on Tangier Island and features some wonderful cinematography of the community and their way of life. A shot of a gravestone slowly sliding underwater is sure to stick in viewers’ minds for a long time. — José Sánchez Córdova, Assistant Managing Editor

Audience Choice Award Winner: “Confishion” (Alexx Simone Johnson, Thomas Larson)

“Confishion” is a comedy for the modern Catholic. It details the struggle of one student who fails to look after her priest’s fish when she mistakes pepper flakes for fish food (a mistake any person distracted by their phone could make, right?). “Confishion” takes the question of sin and spins it into a lighthearted look at some of today’s most pressing questions, like “Is it wrong to sell feet pictures online?” and “Is it better to tell my priest I killed his fish under the seal of confession?” This little film might not have all the answers, but it manages to connect the ordinary quirks of real life with some of the more intimidating realities of religion. For anyone who is wrestling with their faith (or an embarrassing side hustle), “Confishion” is a sure laugh and a cathartic release. — Cozette Brown, Scene Writer