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Pacific moves 'classroom' to Sundance Film Festival

Pacific Students

Pacific students attended the Sundance Film Festival as part of a gift-funded grant program, which supports and fosters young filmmakers as the next generation of storytellers

The Sundance Film Festival is the ultimate gathering of original storytellers in film and University of the Pacific was represented by 20 students from the College of the Pacific.

For the first time since its inception, this year’s iteration of the Sundance Film Festival was not held in picturesque Park City, Utah. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the showcase turned into a virtual event. Promising directors were still on hand to showcase their work, but viewers watched from the comfort of their living rooms.

"Film has become a form of escapism for all of us during the pandemic," said Kevin Pontuti, director of the Media X program at Pacific. "This year we wanted to provide our students the opportunity to not only be part of the festival, but explore their passion for film."

Pacific students attended the festival as part of a gift-funded grant program, which supports and fosters young filmmakers as the next generation of storytellers. The students were able to see some of the biggest premieres of the year, short films and experimental films from around the world and attend panels and Q&A's with leaders in the industry.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has caused Pacific to continue with remote instruction, professors have been working diligently behind the scenes to innovate the virtual classroom and create experiential learning opportunities for students.

"It was fantastic to be able to expose our students to some of the best artists and storytellers in the film industry," said Pontuti. "The Media X program has been working hard to adapt to all of the restrictions in place because of COVID-19 and still provide our students with meaningful experiences."

As always, the Sundance Film Festival plotlines consistently reflect contemporary social issues. Several films focused on the diversity of the human experience.

"I was awestruck by all of the selections this year from all across the globe. Some very striking narratives and inspirational films," said Ramesh Borad '22, who attended the festival. "From now on, as a student and a filmmaker, I’ll always be looking for more diverse stories that have multiple angles."

The pandemic was also a topic that was widely portrayed throughout Sundance. Of course, it is not a surprise that the biggest story of the past year would impact the world of film. The pandemic has changed people's way of life and altered their relationship with entertainment, but what was fascinating at Sundance was seeing the many ways creators had to deal with it — whether it was in the stories they told or the logistical challenges of actually making the movie.

"The best part about experiencing Sundance as a student is that it shows us how to be think creatively when you are limited by situation or budget," said Erik Clemensen '21.

The group of students were also able to attend high-profile panel conversations, including a private Q&A with the Sundance filmmaking team for a film with NorCal roots — “First Date”. The film, directed by newcomers Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp, is a dark comedy and coming-of-age thriller.

"Being able to hear from the filmmakers was not only enlightening in my understanding of the creative process," explained Samantha Tannahill '22. "It also was inspiring to see the extent the artists will go to see their vision through."

Another perk for students was learning of possible job or internship opportunities and how to network with influential people. As a world-famous festival, professionals from all facets of the industry made an appearance, even if virtually.

"Going into the entertainment industry can be daunting and discouraging since it’s often seen as an ‘unstable’ career path," said Hannah Ysabelle Alviso '21. "It was helpful for me to go to these events to network with others, find that encouragement and reassurance that anything is possible when you have the passion and determination to create what you want to create."

With the move to virtual film festivals this year, many students have been able to expand their reach and access to events. This fall, Pacific students attended the American Film Market, the Independent Film Project’s (IFP) Film Week and Film Independent’s Film Forum conference, and IFP’s WomXn Owning It Summit.

"It has been great to attend these events, but it has always been a dream of mine to attend Sundance as this is the 'Olympics' of the filmmaking world," said Angelique Doty '21. "It was a great opportunity to hear advice and career information from leading professionals in the filmmaking industry, as well as network to try to establish a position after graduation."

Click here to see more of the Pacific students experience at Sundance.