Arts & Entertainment, Features

Redstone Film Festival highlights student filmmakers’ creativity amid pandemic challenges

An eager and lively crowd gathered last Friday at the Tsai Performance Center for the in-person return of The Redstone Film Festival. Finalists were able to see their films screened in front of a live audience who greeted the pictures with plenty of laughter, gasps and applause.

redstone film festival
Director Zac Vujnov (COM ’21) accepts an award over Zoom for his film “Roses and Red Noses” at the Redstone Film Festival. The annual film festival took place in-person April 15, celebrating BU Department of Film and Television student films — including many that navigated COVID regulations that forced filmmakers and actors to work with masks. COURTESY OF EMMA HAGERT

Zac Vujnov, a recent College of Communication graduate who directed the short “Roses and Red Noses” which swept the award categories, said the whole process was crazy. Vujnov had to jump from idea to idea in part due to the restrictions at BU, which continually forced him to get creative.

“The thing I wasn’t expecting was just the sheer amount of work and emotion and frustration and wanting to give up and succeeding and powering through and getting into festivals,” Vujnov said.

Vujnov’s film, a romantic comedy featuring love-struck clown street performers — uncommon characters in the romantic comedy genre, he said — was nominated for awards in Open Gate International, Independent Short Awards and New York Independent Cinema Awards on top of the Redstone.

When one of the restrictions mandated that actors had to wear masks, it changed everything, he said. It was the final challenge he navigated during the pandemic-stricken year of regulations and one of the biggest because masks wouldn’t mimic “real life” on screen, he said.

“Instead of it being a surgical mask, I kind of made the mask a part of the story,” Vujnov said. “Clowns was the first thing that popped into my head.”

The idea paid off for Vujnov’s crew, which received awards in Best Picture, Best Cinematography, Best Sound Design and tied with another film, “Double Take,” for Best Editing.

Eli Canter, a junior studying Film and TV in the College of Communication who directed “Double Take,” said in his acceptance speech for the Audience Choice award that “it took a lot of college students to take time out of their busy schedules to come and crew, otherwise it literally would not have been possible.”

“Double Take,” a film beginning with two characters fearing they’re going to miss their Uber because one of them was tending to an untimely nosebleed, takes a dark turn when their driver turns out to be a crook.

The idea, Canter said, actually came about his freshman year when he was stuck in a similar situation waiting for an uber with one of his friends who dealt with chronic nosebleeds.

“We’ve essentially been writing it for a year actually, but we never really thought we’d be able to make it in film school because it involved scenes in a moving car, and we were like ‘How do we do that?’” Canter said. “But last semester, I was just kind of like you know what we have to do it, we’re really proud of the story idea, we have to find a way to make it happen.”

“Double Take” also tied in second place for Best Picture with “Manic,” a short about a young career woman who runs a business where she gets paid by heartbroken ex-girlfriends to go on dates with and ruin the lives of their loser ex-boyfriends who wronged them.

“Originally the script was set in a much nicer apartment in a much nicer restaurant, but COVID ended up shutting down so many of our potential shooting locations that we had to basically convert everything to a college-age level, and then turn BU central into a bar for our filming locations,” Tim Choi, the short’s director who graduated from COM in January 2022, said.

Sami Nardone, the lead actress who played the career woman Freddie, tied for Best Actor, a new category added to the Redstone this year.

The other actor who won Best Actor was Matthew Lanon, who portrayed Walter in “Blunt Force Trauma,” a short featuring two professional crime scene cleaners with clashing personalities.

According to the director, Kaylee Chin, a junior in COM, Lanon jumped into the role after the original actor backed out a few days before filming.

“We started filming without ever even meeting the guy, which is kind of crazy, but he ended up being amazing and fit the part really well,” Chin said.

“Blunt Force Trauma” was also awarded Best Screenplay and came in third place for Best Picture.

This year’s other finalists included: “The Haunting at Marblehead Manor,” a short about two siblings who con their way into extinguishing supernatural beings but are ultimately tested with a real ghost at a truly haunted house, and “La Bella Vita,” a raw love story revolving around the tests, sacrifices and decisions people face in relationships in order to move up in their careers.

Charles Merzbacher, a professor in COM, said he taught most of the students in their beginning production classes and it was amazing to now see all they have achieved especially amid COVID regulations that forced them to come up with stories involving masks, or when actors with masks had to act with only their eyes.

“It’s stunning how effective that is as storytelling,” Merzbacher said. “The fact that they were willing to do that much work under those conditions, I’m just kind of in awe of the students and their resilience.”

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