FSSA Film Fest Goes Virtual

Ordinarily, this past week would have been one of bliss for the Film Department at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (FSSA). After all, they’d still be reeling from celebration.

At the top of this month, they would have all posed for photos. They would have stood upon a red carpet display in their school’s atrium. They would have socialized with their friends and their teachers, and brought parents and relatives along. They would have hunkered down in the seats of the concert hall and listened to remarks, and then cheered and applauded as the films that they worked so hard on all year-round would have burst to life on the big screen.

And ordinarily, they would all now be breathing a collective sigh of relief. But these are not ordinary times.

The current coronavirus pandemic, which has shuttered film productions and shelved film releases across the globe, has stopped short of completely meddling with the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (FSSA) Film Festival.

Although the school has chosen to forego a physical edition due to the current circumstances, the annual festival will live on in a virtual platform, set to debut this June.

As per tradition, the festival will hold two separate screenings. The first, set for Friday, June 12th will showcase work from the Freshman, Sophomore, and Junior grades, while a Senior night, celebrating the work of FSSA’s graduating class will be held on the following Friday, June

Viewers are encouraged though, to attend both screenings, especially since the festival has foregone the typical price of admission, in order to make this year’s event free and accessible to all.

The changes that needed to be made to accommodate this year’s extraordinary circumstances were spearheaded by the Film Festival Committee, a group of FSSA film students from across grade levels, who have debated and organized every detail of this year’s festival,
under the supervision of film teachers Mr. Spagnuoli and Mr. Gubin.

“We’re doing our best to make the virtual film festival something to look forward to and make it something memorable,” remarked Zachary Maxwell, a senior film student at FSSA and a member of the committee.

As a committee member, Zachary met weekly with his fellow students and teachers over Zoom, diligently discussing ways to make the most out of these obviously unfortunate circumstances.

The challenges before them, however, were plentiful. After all, a virtual film festival had never been attempted before by the school, and although film may be uniquely more fortunate in this scenario than any other art form, since it does not require a live performance component, there is still much to be missed from an in-person celebration.

“It’s bittersweet,” says Livia Santos-Havrilak, a classmate of Zachary’s and a fellow committee member. “I’ve always gotten excited to go to the past film festivals. It gives you a jittery feeling, especially when you’re putting your work out there. It gives you that same feeling of, ‘Wow, my work is in a festival!’ ”

Zachary concurred with this notion. His film, an ambitious passion project, which he produced last summer, will premiere at the Senior night in June, but he still regrets that the film won’t be shown before a live audience.

“Sitting in a dark room with a bunch of people while watching a movie is just an experience that you can’t really replicate elsewhere,” he says, “As a
filmmaker, hearing the audience react the way they’re supposed to react, there’s just no better feeling in the world.”

Then there was of course, the issue of what content to showcase in the festival. Zachary was fortunate enough to complete his film before the coronavirus laid waste to film sets, but others weren’t so lucky. The sudden shutdowns interfered with many student productions that
were in the middle of, or about to start production. That did not deter however, the film department’s commitment to crafting meaningful and well-produced projects to screen at the festival.

Mr. Gubin spoke of this initial challenge. “We had to think quickly about how we can still make films while being isolated from one another, and how we can make them relevant,” he said.

The creative film students of FSSA rose to that challenge, crafting a myriad of films, in a short amount of time, all from the isolation of their own homes.

Despite the setbacks, the films produced do not lack in quality, originality, or relevance. Many of them are short documentaries that spin interesting takes on the coronavirus situation.

“[The pandemic is] so in your face that we as artists, as filmmakers, have to do something about it. We have to express ourselves throughout this time,” Mr. Gubin elaborated.

Although several of the films deal directly with the current crisis, viewers can be assured that they’ll be privy to a variety of different genres and concepts when they tune in.

Hudson Flynn, a junior film student at FSSA, spoke of his interest to see this juxtaposition of film.

“I think it’ll also be really interesting to see the films that were made before [this quarantine], because I’m sure they have a whole different atmosphere about them. It’s something that we’ve slowly become less familiar with since this started,” he said.

Despite it all, it seems that neither a pandemic or quarantine is enough to stop the film festival from being a special celebration for all the film students – even if that celebration looks decidedly different this year.

And some of those differences may be roundly welcomed. Among
the advantages of a virtual festival is its outreach, and the fact that an unlimited number of people from anywhere in the world are able to view these films from the leisure of their homes.

Anyone watching will also be privy to an eagerly welcome new addition to this year’s festival – a variety of celebrity appearances that will be interspersed throughout the screening, the work of several committee members who reached out to many known names in the film industry.

And Mr. Spagnuoli had a word of encouragement for his students.

“It can be an awesome thing, because they are trendsetters now. There’s never been a graduating class that had to do a virtual film festival,” he said. “And I know they can come out the other side even stronger and better because of it.”

Heeding those words, it seems clear that the film students of FSSA cannot be deterred from creating, enduring, and celebrating each
other’s work, no matter the circumstances.

* * *

The Frank Sinatra School of the Arts Film Festival will take place on Friday, June 12th at 7 PM (Freshman, Sophomore, and Junior screening), and Friday, June 19th at 7 PM (Senior screening). The festival will be accessible to the public at no charge through the FSSA school website: franksinatraschoolofthearts.org.

– by Alec Inagamov ’20