Michael Wenye Li / Sun Senior Photographer

The Schwartz Performance Center is usually home to the Centrally Isolated Film Festival, which will move online this year.

April 23, 2020

Cornell’s Centrally Isolated Film Festival Goes Online

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The Centrally Isolated Film Festival, Cornell’s annual student-run film competition, will trade the Schwartz Performing Arts Center screens for a virtual festival this year.

The seventh-annual event celebrates the work of student filmmakers from across the upstate and greater central New York region. According to Ella Ekstrom ’20, a student film organizer, close to 100 people attended last year’s festival, but this is the first time the event will happen online.

The 2020 festival received 72 film submissions for the April 24 to May 1 event. Thirty films were chosen by the Performing and Media Arts 2510: Film Festival Production Lab class, where the students watch all of the movies and discuss which ones to select, Ekstrom said.

This year, the jurors will watch the films on their own time and arrive at a consensus by the end of the week-long viewing window. The public also has all week to watch the movies and vote for the audience choice award. The awards will be announced on May 1.

Last year, the festival was held in the film forum of the Schwartz, where two different sets of films were shown on Friday and Saturday. On Friday, the audience picked the winner, and on Saturday, the jurors did.

Submissions this year came from students at Cornell, Ithaca College, Binghamton University, Brown University, Syracuse University, Rochester Institute of Technology, Pratt Institute and Columbia University, according to a press release.

Student-filmmakers compete in four categories: Narrative, documentary, experimental, and audience choice. The first place winner in each category wins $200.

While CIFF originally planned an in-person festival, online film festivals are not a new creation, said Prof. Sabine Haenni, performing and media arts, the CIFF faculty adviser.

After classes were suspended, the semester-long planning process took a turn for the unexpected. Organizers discussed the possibility of livestreaming the festival and sticking to the original schedule.

When it became clear that the organizers would be unable to access the on-campus spaces needed to make this happen, planning turned to how long festival attendees should be able to access the films online.

“We wanted a window long enough for people to watch it, but not so long that students felt their films were getting too accessible, especially if they wanted to submit to other festivals,” Haenni said.

One advantage of the online format is that films will be available to the public for a full week, rather than the normal two screenings during an in-person production of CIFF.

The jurors include Kelly Gallagher, filmmaker and assistant professor of transmedia at Syracuse University, Daniel Fermín Pfeffer, screenwriter, director, and producer, and Leslie Raymond, executive director of the Ann Arbor Film Festival.

Recorded interviews with student filmmakers and jurors have been posted on the festival website to replace some of the in-person interaction.

According to both Haenni and Ekstrom, the festival is largely student-run, with PMA faculty providing the occasional advice and support.

“[Professor Haenni] is helpful and is there when we need her, but she lets us take center stage and take the lead on the festival,” Ekstrom said.

Despite some drawbacks of CIFF’s online format, Haenni is optimistic that it will open up the festival’s films to a larger audience. She looks forward to getting feedback from the public for the audience choice award.

“You can vote on the film you like best, so you should take advantage of that, and let us know what you think,” Haenni said.

Ekstrom said CIFF has become a way to keep the Cornell community together online — especially as a senior.

“I’m excited to be able to connect everyone,” Ekstrom said. “[School ending] was so abrupt. It feels nice to have a Cornell event I can still attend, albeit remotely and connect the community.”