Thinking Twice About Applying to a Film Festival? (Don’t)

December 6th, 2015 marks the day I first saw my own short film in Blu-ray on a big screen and not from a laptop or in a classroom setting.

When I first heard about the Bobst Film Festival, I did not think it would have anything to do with me, nor did I even consider applying. But with each poster, flier and email I saw, I became more and more inclined to apply. In the end, I applied completely on a whim, thinking “Well, why not?” and that was one of the best decisions I made this year.

The first surprise came when I received an email on my birthday notifying me that my film was to be screened at the Bobst Film Festival.

The second was when my film was announced as the winner of Best Original Score. It feels funny to think that I almost did not apply at all. Sometimes stepping out of your comfort zone can go a long way.

I was lucky enough to have chosen Brane Živković’s “Music for Film and TV” this semester, which reminded me of how subconsciously I was already using music and sound as the focus in all of my works to date. This in turn led to the opportunity to attend Walter Murch’s lecture on sound design. They both reminded us again and again about the top priority in Murch’s rule of six: emotion.

As Murch writes, “What they [the audience] finally remember is not the editing, not the camerawork, not the performances, not even the storyit’s how they felt.”

The ultimate goal of each aspect in film is to intertwine together into a final product, which is the film itself, and mold the feelings the director wants to create in his audience.

I wanted to create exactly this. As the director, I chose to focus heavily on music, movement and color – each in itself a strong trigger of emotion and feeling. It was a combination of luck and privilege that I had the opportunity to work with the talents of actress Alexandra Holden, dancer Hayong Roh and composer Dong Liu, supported by my crew Haixu Liu and Joe Navarro, along with the guidance of my teacher Rick Litvin. They helped me actualize my vision, which I alone could not have done.

This was my first time collaborating with a composer and Dong Liu’s ability to comprehend exactly what feeling I wanted to create for my audience, helped shape the piece into what it became. For this, I am very grateful and appreciative because without such understanding, my film would not have been able to create the intensity of emotion it does now.

My section in the Festival consisted of four films: Oma en Opa (dir. Charlotte de Bekker), Paranoia (dir. Colton Smrz), Trudy (dir. Victoria Duncan) and Breathe (dir. Katusha Jin).

Oma en Opa was a documentary styled interview of an old couple, which gave a very authentic feeling of happy reminiscence, love and acceptance. Paranoia focused on using camera angle, coloration and sound design to create the disturbing, claustrophobic feeling of paranoia and inner distress. Trudy, on the other hand, was a studio piece that relied on comedy, dialogue and the comic visual representations of the characters.

The order in which the films were shown was also very emotionally satisfying, as we were never left in one set of emotions for long. As an audience member of the first three films, those were my initial reactions to them. It was extremely inspiring to see the stories, styles and thematic choices of other fellow students.

As young filmmakers we are often limited in our resources, financial or otherwise. We make last minute changes, swap in different props, actors, and fix aspects in post. We debate the balance between compromising our original story versus hiding a mistake we made when in production.

It is because of these little changes that our projects never turn out exactly the way we planned them. When the project comes to a wrap, all we can do is hope for the best when all the aspects finally are tied together on the big screen.

Sometimes it takes an extra push to submit your own work to a festival because submitting work to a festival opens it up to judgment and critique. Throughout all of these feelings of uncertainty and vulnerability as a filmmaker, there is no greater encouragement than receiving the support, appreciation and recognition from an audience. When a crowd of people gathers together as the audience for your film, it is rewarding enough. They are witnessing the presentation of your hard work and watching it together already makes it seem well worth it.

Here are several of the Bobst Winners.

Katusha Jin is a student in the NYU/Tisch Undergraduate Film and TV Department from the class of 2017.