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Ceremony honors young filmmakers

ORACLE PHOTO/SEBASTIAN CONTENTO

Students from all majors and walks of life were recognized for their excellent work in film last night at the CampusMovieFest finale. 

From a pool of 76 films, 16 made it to the finale and after a deliberation of an anonymous jury of USF faculty, staff and students, only four films won the jury prize and made it to Hollywood. 

Not only were these five-minute films sophisticated, but they were also made by USF students — some with no film experience at all. Each of them filmed, edited and written in only seven days. 

CampusMovieFest provided 76 teams of students with a free Apple MacBook, a Panasonic HD camera, Adobe Creative Suite, a portable hard drive and 24/7-tech support, and left the rest to them.

While a daunting task, it was not one that Daniel Rakowski, 22, was unfamiliar with. Having competed for a second year, his entry “Star-Crossed” was inspired by the director of “AntiChrist,” Lars Von Trier. 

“I had a dream about it and had to put it in a film, and this is what came out,” Rakowski said. “(It was a) beautiful experience, it was an envelopment of my soul and spirit, and I couldn’t imagine anything better coming out of it.”

“Star-Crossed,” which tells the story of a couple with a tragic ending, was one of the jury picks and will be shown in Hollywood in July. Rakowski, who directed, wrote and acted in his first foray into CampusMovieFest  decided to do something even bigger. 

“This experience inspired us to create a company,” said Rakowski’s partner and cofounder of Elsewhere & Co. Productions, Trent Mitchell. “We do film production in the Tampa area. This is our second endeavor, and we did “Bloom” last year.”

The competition was not all for film veterans — even first timers were recognized for their efforts. 

Finance major Zaid Dabus and marketing major Shady Mawajdeh collaborated on a piece called “A Confounding Film,” a tale about a sick little brother and the robbery his older brother pulls off in order to buy his medication.

For the two young filmmakers, the story is a personal one. 

“The one who played the little brother is actually my little brother. I know friends whose little siblings have passed away and that drowned, or got seriously hurt and that’s a devastating thought to me,” Dabus said. “So making sure that we will do anything for our brother, we wanted to convey that.”

Mawajdeh also wanted the audience to think deeply about how they perceive the robbery depicted in the film. 

“If you’re a good person and you do a bad thing, does that make you a bad person?” he asked. “This is a struggle that everyone goes through.”

The project was truly a family affair, with Dabus’ 10-year-old brother Deano acting in the film. 

“I took him to the fair and he got so excited and I didn’t tell him (Mawajdeh) was there and I didn’t tell him why I brought the camera,” Dabus said. “We were having fun and then the last hour before the fair closed, Shady showed up with a camera and I told him, ‘You’re gonna be a star,’ and he was like, ‘OK…’” 

Making a departure from some of the relatively lighter fare at the festival was “Breakthrough,” a story about a female sociopath that earned lead actress Savannah Lowe, a theater and deaf studies major, her first Best Actress award. 

“It’s such an honor,” Lowe said. “We honestly were very proud of our film this year, but after seeing a lot of the other films that went, we were not as confident just because everyone stepped it up and it was really beautiful.”

Director and writer Quincy Bazen, a mass communications student, finds the feeling of being in the winner’s circle familiar. This is his third time entering a film and second time winning the competition at the USF level. 

“I don’t want to say it was easier because it was challenging,” Bazen said. “This was the first time I’d stepped behind the camera — normally I’m in it.”

Despite being on the other side of production, Bazen found the experience enriching rather than alienating. 

“It cleared my focus a bit,” he said. “I could step back and look at the project as a whole.”

The “Breakthrough” crew plans on visiting Hollywood again this year in July. 

The fourth jury prize winner went to Quincy Walter’s entry, “He[A]lium,” the heartbreaking tale of a young boy mourning the death of his grandfather. 

All of these films and extras can be found online at CampusMovieFest.com/USF.