Making Movie Magic

Trinity Film Festival to mark third year

TFF-2013-overviewby Mary Howard

The idea for a Trinity film festival started as many great ideas do–serendipitously.

“The sequence of events was uncanny,” says Dean of Students Fred Alford. “In October 2011, Rick Cleary ’85 approached me with the idea of hosting an intercollegiate film festival at Trinity. He argued there could be no better venue in the country than Cinestudio–‘It would be like playing intramurals in Fenway Park.’ He just needed a campus champion.” The next day, John Michael Mason ’12, then a senior, walked into Alford’s office with the same idea.

Across campus, Milla Riggio, James J. Goodwin Professor of English, Cinestudio board member, and active proponent of Trinity’s emerging film program, was anticipating a visit from the founder of the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival, which has a tie with The University of the West Indies. Riggio thought a student festival might be created at Trinity if Mason could be engaged to organize it. Soon after, Assistant Professor of English James Prakash Younger, Riggio’s film studies colleague, met with Cleary and Mason to discuss bringing a film festival to Trinity.

“It’s a privilege to watch a great idea flourish and take fire in someone’s mind, heart, and soul,” says President James F. Jones, Jr., who has supported Mason’s vision from the beginning. “Each year, the quality and number of entries has gotten better. John Michael Mason is the Pied Piper of student filmmakers.”

Amy Poon ’12 greets patrons of the inaugural Trinity Film Festival in 2012.

Amy Poon ’12 greets patrons of the inaugural Trinity Film Festival in 2012.

Now in its third year, the Trinity Film Festival (TFF) attracts some of the country’s most talented collegiate filmmakers. The festival boasts critically acclaimed judges and the backing of notable industry professionals, including Hollywood director Stephen Gyllenhaal ’72.

“This is something that shines a spotlight on our unique assets here at Trinity,” says Mason. Those assets include Cinestudio–the 500-seat, volunteer-staffed, state-of-the-art theater located on campus. Operated and managed by James Hanley ’72 and Peter McMorris ’73 since they founded it as students, the 1930s-style movie palace has been a second home to many film lovers at Trinity, including Mason and Gyllenhaal. “Trinity Film Festival is the premier venue for student filmmakers to show off their work,” says Mason. “It couldn’t happen without Cinestudio.”

TFF 2013 received more than 40 submissions from students as far away as Texas and California. Of these, 21 short films were featured at the event. “At first people assumed the festival was only for Trinity students, but right from the beginning, we had a broader vision,” says Mason, who was a Karl Kurth Scholar.

TFF-2013-ballots-2Trinity talent is also represented–in 2013, filmmakers Erik Bloomquist ’14, QuestBridge Scholar Bettina Gonzalez ’16, and K.C. Clark ’13 took part. In 2012, Four Miles, a film by Brian Plungis ’14, came in second place, and Intervention: Smartphone, by Anson McCook ’12, received Honorable Mention in the audience choice category.

To be considered, films must be no longer than 10 minutes. And that’s difficult, says Cleary, COO of a Boston-based investment firm. “It’s hard to get your message across in just 10 minutes. These students do a fantastic job.”

The festival awards several cash prizes thanks to Cleary’s support. In 2013, the top prize went to Charlie Redd, a junior from New York University, for his comedy, Reservations, about a young man who discovers that heaven is actually an old and overbooked hotel. “The Trinity Film Festival not only offered me the chance to screen my short film in front of a responsive audience at a beautiful venue, it was also an opportunity to meet other young filmmakers, to learn from their work, and to be inspired by them,” he said at the awards ceremony.

TFF-2012-screenAward-winning director and writer Lauren Wolkstein, a judge at the 2013 festival, says the event is “a wonderful showcase of the emerging talent coming out of undergraduate film programs around the U.S.” Wolkstein was named one of the top 25 emerging filmmakers at the 2011 New York Film Festival.

The birth and rise of the festival comes as no surprise to Cleary. “This is the quintessential Trinity story,” he says. “It’s about how a student can come up with an idea, collaborate with Trinity peers, faculty, staff, alumni, and the president of the College, and make it happen. There are few places where a student can do that. It also helps that John Michael is one gifted individual.” Riggio echoes those sentiments. “John Michael has vision and an amazing capacity for organization. He’s the kind of person who makes things happen.”

Mason, a member of Phi Beta Kappa, designed his own interdisciplinary major in American cultural history. He captained the varsity track team for two years and founded the Trinity Film Society, which holds film-related events at Cinestudio. “He’s an exceptional young man,” says Jones. “He ran with this idea–as fast as he ever ran for a track meet.” In fact, the idea for TFF came to Mason when Cinestudio held a special screening of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Mason had produced a 12-minute film that was shown before the classic thriller. “It wasn’t going to win an Oscar, but I loved seeing my work on the big screen,” he says. That’s when Mason approached Alford.


John Michael Mason ’12, director of the Trinity Film Festival

Now a graduate student at Trinity studying for a master’s in American studies with a focus in American history and serving as an assistant coach for Trinity’s track and cross-country teams, Mason had no idea how much work putting together a national film festival would entail. “The short answer is that I put in a lot of hours,” he says.

Mason, who grew up outside Boston, spends much of his time pitching the festival to talented film students and recruiting student volunteers. As TFF’s director, he oversees everything from the selection of judges to the catering for the awards banquet. Fortunately, he has help from students, who this year include computer science major and Thomas J. and Frank A. Hagarty Scholar Liam Doran ’14, who, working with graduate Scotty Eckenthal ’12, is building the 2014 TFF Web site. “It’s really about the team,” says Doran. “[TFF] has the same vibe as a start-up. It’s young people building something from the ground up.”

As Mason and his team look forward to the third festival, which is scheduled for May 3, 2014, at Cinestudio, efforts are under way to make the event self-sustaining.

“Trinity Film Festival is about so much more than screening movies,” says Mason. “It’s more than just the film–it’s about the atmosphere, the overall experience, and the magic around the movies.”