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Students shooting for success

Campus MovieFest (CMF) concludes its fourth year at USF – and its 10th year since starting at Emory University – offering college students a chance at cinematic celebrity.

Like the previous three years, filmmakers were given Apple laptops and digital camcorders to create a movie no longer than five minutes in a weeklong production.

Categories include Best Picture, Best Comedy, Best Drama and the Wild Card – a prize chosen by text message votes during the finale. Students start at the university level with the chance to move up to the regional level.

CMF’s ultimate level is the International Grand Finale in Hollywood. Last year, USF films “Fireflies” and “Scoops” made it into the top 16 finalists.

Danielle Pascarella, a senior majoring in psychology, worked on a short that won last year’s Wild Card award at USF and reached the regional level.

Her entry this year, “Silenced,” is about a girl who gets into a car accident, worries she has hit a man and debates what to do.

“It’s like a thriller,” Pascarella said.

Pascarella said one aspect she hasn’t changed from last year is the will to create a film no matter how tough the circumstances.

“Shooting inside a car was difficult,” she said. “The entire film was shot inside a car, and trying to get all the right angles and keep the camera steady was just difficult.”

Philip Bowers, a freshman majoring in biochemistry, filmed, edited and directed a short about lost love called “evol.”

Bowers said he hoped the film found a unique angle on the boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl-back clich.

“We tried to keep it as original as possible, as it was one of the things on the rubric,” Bowers said.

New to the CMF experience, Bowers said he wished he planned ahead – his team worked on the movie the weekend after receiving the equipment – but he doesn’t feel discouraged.

“I’ll be back next year,” Bowers said.

Mayur Palankar, a graduate student studying robotics, opted to use professional actors from USF’s theater department for his film, “Guilt.”

“I went to the theater department and talked to one of the professors,” Palankar said. “I went to her class, talked to her students about my script and did auditions.”

“Guilt” observes a dialogue between a psychiatrist and her patient. The patient suffers from dissociative identity disorder, and she wants one of his personalities to come out.

Palankar said he had struggled some with “Guilt” due to scheduling, lighting and editing problems, but remains positive for Thursday’s finale screening.

“Hopefully, it will be selected in the 16 movies to be shown this Thursday,” Palankar said. “Winning would be great.”

CMF holds the USF finale Thursday in the Marshall Student Center’s Oval Theater, with doors opening at 7 p.m. and 16 films chosen by USF students, faculty and staff screening at 7:30 pm.

In addition to the regular competition, CMF promotions manager Kevin Moogan said one new change is the AT&T Rethink Possible Award, which focuses on feature films with a $5,000 cash prize.

“You apply for it and get considered a campus semi-finalist, then the top five films get invited out to L.A. to meet industry executives for a possible movie deal,” Moogan said.

USF student Sarah Wilson’s film, “Rhapsody,” won Best Picture at CMF’s 2009 International Grand Finale, beating out 46 other nominated films.

“Winning the Grand Finale did wonders for my filmmaking career,” Wilson said. “I was able to meet people in the industry and get acquainted with people to get jobs. I just did a summer internship at Warner Brothers Studios.”

Wilson is now a student at Chapman University, which she calls “one of the best film schools in the nation,” and interns with Oscar-winning “Schindler’s List” screenwriter Steven Zaillian.

Wilson said students who are serious about CMF and a future filmmaking career should start early.

“If you want to have something (with the) potential to make it to the International Grand Finale, it’s important to start your preparations for shoot week,” Wilson said. “It takes a long time to plan stuff out. Explore your resources in Tampa.”

Moogan said the festival has come a long way since its creation in 2001, even expanding out of the country.

“Ten years ago, CMF started off with four students at Emory University just trying to do something for their residence hall and build a community, and 10 years later, we have 75 universities across the U.S. and Mexico,” Moogan said. “So that kind of growth in 10 years really shows the response we got from students, and how students really want to enjoy this opportunity.”