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University of Dayton communication students to host independent film festival online

By Allison Brace '22

The show must go on — even amid a global pandemic. University of Dayton faculty and students have overcome challenges related to COVID-19 to put on the Dayton Independent Film Festival in a virtual format.

The film festival will be available online Sept. 25-28 and also will feature a special physically distanced in-person event at the Dixie Twin Drive-In in Dayton at 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 28. The festival focuses on short films created by artists from the Dayton area and across the Midwest. It revives the idea of an annual, local independent film showcase, like the one presented by nonprofit FilmDayton from 2009-2015.

Like any good movie, there’s a plot twist.

The original plan was for the festival to be held at the Neon theater in downtown Dayton. However, after careful consideration, Jesseca Ynez Simmons, assistant professor of communication and filmmaker, and her team decided that due to physical-distancing guidelines the Neon would not be a fitting venue this year.

“For the Dayton Independent Film Festival, we really wanted to bring people together and celebrate creativity and community,” said Natalie Blue, a sophomore communication major from Columbus, Ohio. “Unfortunately, COVID-19 created some obstacles but the way DIFF has adapted is going to be great.”

The festival was developed during the spring 2020 semester by students in the University of Dayton Department of Communication’s film marketing and distribution course, taught by Simmons. Students took submissions and learned about the facets of planning a film festival from the ground up.

“Having students lay the groundwork through the class was very helpful,” Simmons said. “We have been watching films since March in preparation for the festival and having multiple eyes on each film has helped us to feel confident in our selections. The experience gained through this course really transcends the class as both a learning and work experience.”

Fifteen students participated in planning the festival, from Simmons’ course and beyond.

The online festival will feature six blocks of films with one stand-alone two episode web series. The event will be ticketed through Seed&Spark, a crowdfunding platform that allows creators to build audiences, raise funds and launch careers. The festival also will feature special events including a free workshop for aspiring filmmakers.

The six virtual blocks will feature three focusing on fiction shorts; one of documentary shorts; one of experimental shorts; and one focused on local short films. Each of these blocks contain different films with the hope that they can come together to capture the idea of “Stories in Flight.”

One fiction block addresses the topic of challenging conversations and was judged by the staff of the YWCA Dayton, an organization devoted to eliminating racism, empowering women, promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. To give back to the Dayton community and further the mission of the Dayton Independent Film Festival, 20% of the proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the YWCA Dayton.

“We want to make sure that our festival is benefiting our community — filmmakers and beyond,” Simmons said. “YWCA Dayton does so much for our community. We also felt that it was important to support an organization that was actively fighting against racism.”

The live event at the Dixie Twin Drive-In will feature two blocks, the first focusing on the theme of “Resilience” and the second showcasing the festival’s award winners. It takes advantage of the sudden resurgence of drive-in theaters this summer because of the pandemic. The event will feature 10 of the 39 films in the festival, allowing the community to enjoy a physically distanced night out.

Another challenge posed by COVID-19 was fundraising to support the festival’s budget. However, the festival was able to move forward through the support of local community members Ife Olaore and Ben Taylor of Goshenburg Holdings Inc., a Dayton-based economic development holding company focused on the positive transformation of overlooked communities by leveraging its real estate development, entertainment and policy consulting entities.

“We at Goshenburg are invested in the future of film in Ohio and we are proud to be a sponsor of the festival and call the Gem City our home,” Taylor and Olaore said. “The spirit of indie film will live on as filmmakers continue to support and collaborate with festivals like the Dayton Independent Film Festival. We will continue to invest in DIFF and local filmmakers as we turn the attention of Hollywood to our beautiful and resilient city.”

The panel of judges are all Dayton-based, helping to drive home the spirit of community through the festival.

The full Dayton Independent Film Festival lineup is available on the festival’s website. Presale tickets go on sale Sept. 10. Students are able to attend the live event at the Dixie Twin Drive-In at no cost.

“The best part about the festival is that our filmmakers will still get to have their films shown, and the overcoming spirit of Dayton has been uniquely epitomized,” said Abby Rutan, second-year graduate student from Dayton, Ohio. “I hope our film festival continuing in a safe, socially-responsible way will encourage the filmmakers who may have had other opportunities cancelled or postponed. It is absolutely indicative of Dayton's character that, through misfortune, we are united as a community and are continuing to support the arts.”

Tickets for the live event can be purchased here.

Image, top of page: by permission of the Dayton Independent Film Festival.

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