Big Screen: St. Thomas Filmmakers Make the Cut at the ACTC Film Festival

The theater was filled with excited chatter, noises of shock, and murmurs of appreciation. Sixteen films, four of which were from St. Thomas, were shown on the big screen on Wednesday, Nov. 13, as part of the Associated Colleges of the Twin Cities (ACTC) Student Film Festival at St. Anthony Main Theatre. It was an experience that Tim Scully, professor of videography, predicted to be engaging for both the students and the audience.

“It’s fun to go to a real theater to show [the films], and have a place like Vic’s right next door so we can go for an after party,” he said, naming the trendy restaurant where awards were presented following the event. St. Thomas juniors Austin Riordan, Mariann Kukielka and Alison Bengston shared his enthusiasm.

“I know it’s just a small-scale film festival, but we’re really excited,” said junior entrepreneurship and business communication major Kukielka before the event, which is in its third year. As vice president of St. Thomas’ Film Society, Kukielka has shown interest in the film fest since she began attending St. Thomas. She is also a film studies minor, taking advantage of the new program at St. Thomas, put into effect this fall. “We’re kind of geeking out about it,” she added, laughing.

Entries from the University of St. Thomas included an excerpt from the documentary “A Vision of Sustainability,” submitted by Bengston and Andrew Frentz, which won an award for best documentary.

“Coach Bob Raczek” by Riordan, and the public service announcement “You Can Stop” by Kukielka and Bengston also were featured.

“I think that this year is probably the best out of the past three years in terms of the quality of the work,” Scully said of St. Thomas submissions. Yet it was no small feat to make it to the big screen. The 16 films shown were chosen from a pool of 28. The process of elimination is a long one, with a submission deadline set in mid-September.

A board of five ACTC professors watches all of the films and chooses what Scully calls “a good representation” of the group. The genres range from dramatic narrative to experimental or avant-garde. Wednesday night’s selections included topics such as the challenges the Hmong population faces in retaining its heritage to an action movie trailer about chess-playing dogs.

The films are not selected on a highest-quality basis, however. “It’s more of ‘Is this something that represents students’ film in a way that we haven’t seen or that we would like to showcase?” Scully explained. While one film might have impressive technical quality, another might have a strong story.

The film festival encourages students to mingle with their peers and learn from them. “That’s the most important thing,” Scully said, “that they come, and they watch films and they talk about it and get interested."

“It also kind of raises their awareness about what other students are doing in the other ACTC schools,” he added.

Riordan cited exactly that when he explained his motivation for entering his film in the festival. “I thought it would be cool to join the community of filmmakers,” said the communication and journalism major, who created a start-up videography company nine months ago. “I was really impressed by other people's work. It makes me want to be better, to do better,” he said.

Other students participating in the film festival came from Augsburg College, Hamline University, Macalester College and St. Catherine University.