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College of Arts and Sciences Newsroom

UD communication students plan independent film festival in Dayton

By Allison Brace ’22

University of Dayton students in the Department of Communication’s film marketing and distribution course spent the spring 2020 semester developing the framework to bring a film festival to the Dayton community. Their work will hit the big screen this fall.

The Dayton Independent Film Festival, tentatively scheduled for Sept. 25-27 at Dayton’s Neon movie theater, will focus on short films created by artists from the Dayton area and across the Midwest, capturing the theme “Stories in Flight.” The festival revives the idea of an annual, local independent film showcase, like the one presented by nonprofit FilmDayton from 2009-2015.

“Lots of people were missing the FilmDayton Festival, so I got the idea to bring one back to the community,” said Jesseca Ynez Simmons, assistant professor of communication. “There was no way that I could carry this out alone, which is why I decided to do things in class form, allowing students to practice experiential learning while thinking critically about how film festivals really work.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed new challenges for the class and festival alike. Working remotely, Simmons and her students have been able to trouble-shoot issues through Zoom video conference meetings. The uncertain situation has forced them to examine whether people will feel comfortable going into a crowded theater by September. The festival may be postponed to a later date because of the pandemic.

Simmons is a practicing filmmaker whose 2019 feature-length documentary, I Can Only Be Mary Lane, won awards at film festivals in Cleveland and Santa Cruz, California. She spent summer 2019 working on her next film, We Will Not Turn to Stone, with help from six University students through the College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Summer Fellowship program.

The course practices a hands-on approach and gives students firsthand knowledge on topics such as branding, marketing, curation, distribution and basic film production. The course is a bridge class, meaning that it includes both undergraduate and graduate students, giving students a variety of peer perspectives.

“Being surrounded by upperclassmen and grad students who are very passionate about communication and their concentrations has been great in helping me solidify that it is the right major for me, making me feel more excited and passionate about it as well,” said Natalie Blue, a first-year communication major from Columbus, Ohio.

Simmons supports the idea of experiential learning in every course she teaches. Given her experience in the field, she recognizes the value of being able to both learn and work hands-on with the subject matter.

“Experiential learning enriches our students’ education by giving them the opportunity to get up close and personal with the subject matter in a visceral way,” Simmons said. “I think this encounter makes them more confident when they graduate, regardless of what’s next, because they've had some hands-on experience. Our students are so smart and capable and experiential learning provides further opportunities for them to apply their skills in tangible ways they can be proud of.”

Many of the students plan to help with the festival this September, even though the course will have concluded. “I am hoping to continue to work on the project after the semester is over, and hopefully in the festival for years to come,” said Melanie Reindl ’19, festival programming director and a communication graduate student from Loveland, Ohio.

Currently, students are working on a storyboard assignment to generate ideas for a trailer to get the community excited about the festival. Simmons promised that once they are able to meet in person again, they will choose one for the class to make together.

Students are also working remotely to view submissions from their homes, selecting entries by process of elimination. They are assessing films based on a core set of values that they wrote together in a mission statement at the beginning of the semester.

“We are looking for content that is different, engaging and plays into our mission and our community,” Reindl said.

Regardless of what the future brings, Simmons and her class hope to be able to find ways to support and cherish the work of local and regional filmmakers.

“Even if things are not closer to normal, there are still ways to engage, share, support and cherish the art we are all making,” Reindl said. “Dayton has obviously had a rough time this past year so we want to bring hope to the forefront. I think Dayton has a good arts community, so I am looking forward to engaging with people who maybe aren't so familiar with Dayton’s place in film.”

For more information, visit the Dayton Independent Film Festival website.

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