In an ordinary year, the Paramount Theatre in downtown Abilene would roll out the red carpet for ACU’s FilmFest Gala, the university’s annual student film competition, now in its 17th year. But this year was, of course, no ordinary one, and so the festival moved outside for ACU’s first-ever FilmFest: Under the Stars.
Last Friday night as the sun set behind the Tower of Light, students and faculty watched this year’s films in the Beauchamp Amphitheatre and cheered award winners in 13 categories for excellence in filmmaking.
The award for Best Picture went to Brody Jasso’s film Oliver Frederickson, which also snagged Best Director for Jasso, sophomore theatre major, and Best Cinematography for Braden Garner, junior multimedia major. The People’s Choice award went to the animated film Gerald, directed by Katie Pantoja, senior multimedia major. (For a full list of awards, visit acu.edu/filmfest.)
Last year when the FilmFest gala moved online in response to the pandemic, the Learning Studio looked forward to once again hosting the 2021 event in person. But campus restrictions to in-person gatherings in the spring dictated the event be held outside rather than in a theater and with limited attendance.
FilmFest once again connected students with a panel of judges from the film industry. In attendance were Randy Brewer (’93), founder of Revolution Pictures in Nashville, Tenn., and longtime champion of student filmmaking at ACU; Sommerly Simser (’10), who has worked for Paramount Pictures, Imagine Entertainment and Netflix; Brent McCorkle, whose directing and composing credits include Woodlawn and I Can Only Imagine; and Jason Baumgardner, a screenwriter who worked with the Department of Theatre last fall to produce its Homecoming short film Cinderella: A Fairytale.
The judges attended a special breakfast with student participants the morning after the event, where they offered feedback and critiques on each of the submitted films.
Simser told students how FilmFest jump-started a future in the entertainment business. “When I competed in Filmfest in 2009 and 2010, there were no workshops, professionals offering mentoring and guidance or high quality gear and equipment to use. Now the whole experience rivals filmmaker labs other festivals have in place, which sets the students up for success with films they can be proud of. I really loved having a full circle moment of being able to return to FilmFest.”