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Silver-screen students

For three years, Campus MovieFest (CMF) has offered college students the chance at fame in film.

USF students responded to the self-proclaimed “world’s largest student film festival” in record numbers this year, with more than 110 crews signing up to participate, said CMF official Jessica Reynoso.

Jesse Lancaster, a junior double majoring in engineering and music studies, has participated in CMF, which challenges students to produce and submit a film no longer than five minutes in one week, all three years.

Lancaster’s entry this year, “The Recording Major,” is about a music student who is taunted for playing a grade-school recorder instrument.

“I wanted it to be somewhat touching, but it’s also light,” said Lancaster, who spent up to seven hours a night editing the film last week.

Lack of sleep is just one of the elements students face during the week, said Dan Costa, CMF’s co-founder. Costa and three other students at Emory University started CMF in 2001. The event now has more than 50 separate events at various locations around the country.

“We wondered what would happen if we provided the tools and training (for) a bunch of our fellow students to make short movies in just a week,” Costa said.

The students compete at the university level and have a chance to compete at the regional level as well. Students are issued an Apple laptop computer and a digital camcorder to use during the week, which has been a tradition since CMF began, Costa said.

“We gathered up Apple laptops and cameras, pretty much didn’t sleep all semester and managed to get a couple of administrators to trust us with the equipment,” he said.

USF student participation has risen steadily in recent years, Reynoso said. In 2008, there were 40 movies. This year, teams will submit 50 films.

“USF has been a pretty incredible school for us,” Costa said.

Last year, USF student Sarah Wilson’s film “Rhapsody” won the festival’s highest honor: Best Picture at CMF’s International Grand Finale. Before a film reaches that stage, it must make it past the regional levels.

Nathan Collins, a senior majoring in marketing, worked on two shorts this year: “That Girl” and “Forlorn.”

“I figured it was senior year, so why not?” Collins said.

Justin Seow, director of “That Girl” and a senior majoring in finance, said the film is a variant on the familiar boy-meets-girl formula.

“(The character) is trying to talk to a girl, but he can’t find the courage to, and when he does it ends up pathetically,” Seow said.

Seow and Collins said “That Girl” was a complicated piece that spanned five days of shooting. However, Collins and his partner Cole Giering filmed “Forlorn” on a single night, writing the script while shooting. They edited the movie the next morning.

“It’s a small cast – two characters – and minimal dialogue,” Collins said. “You can’t figure out the story until the end.”

“That Girl” and “Forlorn” were submitted under the Best Comedy category. Other featured categories are Best Picture and Best Drama.

Alex Hayes, a junior majoring in international studies, had previously worked as an assistant director on “The Perfectionist,” which won the Wild Card award – chosen by text message – last year.

This year, Hayes is returning with “Bloom,” an entry for Best Drama, which is about a troubled woman who meets a bored young man at a party.

“I really wanted to portray something about college-aged people,” Hayes said.

However, Hayes said her previous experience with CMF did not prevent production problems. Her team had trouble coordinating work and school schedules, as well as struggling to make natural light match each scene’s time setting.

The film is supposed to take place over one day while the characters were at the party, but this proved challenging.

“Lighting would just change way too quick,” Hayes said.

Costa said he hoped the festival would attract continuing contributors like Hayes, as well as freshmen and new filmmakers.

“Specifically, we’ve obviously reached out to all the past participants and invited them back,” Costa said, “but we’ve also done a pretty good job of really being on campus a lot, to get out the word there.”

CMF set up a table last week near the Marshall Student Center (MSC) food court, where
staff handed out forms and answered students’ questions.

CMF offered two new categories this year: Elfenwork’s Social Justice Category and the AT&T Golden Mobile Award.

CMF will hold the school-wide finale Wednesday in the MSC’s Oval Theatre with doors opening at 7 p.m.

“We really dress it up like the Academy Awards, so we’ll have a red carpet,” Costa said. “As people walk in, we’ll be showcasing stills from everybody’s movies on the screen.”

The finale will present the top 16 shorts, selected by a panel of USF students and staff, in their entirety. A highlight reel will include scenes from all other entries.

Every one of USF’s aspiring filmmakers will get to see their cinematic works – if only for fleeting seconds – projected on the big screen.