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University of Dayton faculty and students present second annual Dayton Independent Film Festival, Sept. 24-27, showcasing Midwestern filmmakers

By Dave Larsen

Two dozen University of Dayton students spent the 2021 spring semester planning, curating and creating assets for a four-day independent film festival. Their coursework hits the big screen at the 2021 Dayton Independent Film Festival, Sept. 24-27, at the Neon and Dixie Twin Drive-in theaters in Dayton.

The second annual showcase of feature-length and short films by Midwestern independent filmmakers was produced by faculty and students in the Department of Communication’s film marketing and distribution course. The course, which more than tripled its enrollment from the previous year, is taught by Assistant Professor Jesseca Ynez Simmons, an award-winning documentary filmmaker.

“Film festivals matter so much to filmmakers to get their work out there in front of audiences,” Simmons said. “They also have a community benefit in terms of showcasing local artists and offering programming other than what is being produced in Hollywood.”

Through hands-on class projects and activities, Simmons’ students gained first-hand experience and knowledge of what goes into creating a film festival, including curation, filmmaking concepts, project management and marketing. They also discovered new possibilities for their post-graduation careers.

“I learned so much about the world of films and film festivals, including filmmaker expectations and best practices,” said Rachel Young, a junior Spanish and communication major with a public relations concentration from Greendale, Wisconsin. “I also learned how to critically watch films and evaluate them based on content and technical execution.”

For the final project, Young was part of the marketing and engagement team. She created a social media plan for the duration of the festival, as well as templates to highlight films selected for the festival on social media. She also proposed events to engage filmmakers and festival audiences. Other members of her team wrote press releases, drafted a festival marketing budget and made contingency plans in the event the festival was impacted by COVID-19, as it was in September 2020.

“This experience introduced me to the possibility of a career in entertainment public relations,” Young said. “I have loved every minute of my involvement with the Dayton Independent Film Festival. I know it will be so rewarding to see everything I have learned and worked on come to fruition in late September.”

Lance Todorowski, a senior mechanical engineering major from Pittsburgh, was on the programming team for the final project. His team screened the films to determine which would be included in the festival. They also suggested themes that were used to organize the films in programming blocks for the festival.

“I took this class as part of my integrated arts and technology minor, and this minor in general has really opened my eyes to how engineering and art go together,” Todorowski said. “My dream career is to work for Universal Creative designing theme park attractions for the Universal Orlando Resort. This class furthered my interest in this dream job, as every attraction and land in the resort is themed to some sort of media property.”

Simmons said this year’s festival benefited from students bringing their own expertise to the class, allowing them to use foundational knowledge from other courses in a new context. The assets they created for their final projects, including the festival’s website, live on after the end of the semester and are now being used to promote the event.

“In terms of student learning, it’s great that they have tangible things that they create and can point to after the class is over and say, ‘I did this,’” Simmons said. “That’s especially helpful for future employment and other opportunities. That is one thing I’m constantly thinking about: How can these assignments meet the learning objectives, but also become part of a reel or a portfolio.”

The 2021 Dayton Independent Film Festival will include 23 short films from across the Midwest, two feature-length films with Dayton connections and question-and-answer sessions with some of the filmmakers.

The opening night film, Poser, will be shown at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 24, at the Neon. The debut feature from Ohio-born producers Jake Striebel and Jerry Ankenbauer stars Louie Kurtzman and features a supporting cast from the Dayton area. The filmmakers will be in attendance.

Eight Nations, a basketball documentary that features Flyer men’s basketball alumnus Kyle Davis ’17, will be shown at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 25 at the Neon.

The Neon also will screen three short film blocks. Fiction Shorts I: Approaching the Unknown will be shown at 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 25. Fiction Shorts II: Along for the Ride will be shown at 1 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 26. Documentary Shorts: The Power Within Us will be shown at 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 26.

The closing night event at 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 27, at the Dixie Twin Drive-In will showcase the festival’s award winners and five short films produced by students at Stivers School for the Arts in Dayton.

University of Dayton students can attend festival events for free with their photo ID. For tickets and more information, including COVID-19 safety protocols, visit the Dayton Independent Film Festival website.

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