SEPTEMBER 17, 2018 BY WILLIAM STRIBLING for The Daily Mississippian
There are 1,440 of them in a day, but the the University of Mississippi Department of Theatre & Film is asking for just one. In an effort to make entry-level filmmaking accessible to students, the department added a one-minute film competition to the 2018 UM Film Festival.
Submissions are open through Sept. 21, and the one-minute competition isn’t just open to university students. There’s a separate category for high school students to which any student in the U.S. can submit. The university category is open to all current and former students as well as current faculty and staff members.
The festival typically happens during the spring semester but was moved to Oct. 12-13 so that the theatre department could become more involved with the Oxford Film Festival.
This expansion of the festival is just one of the many recent changes marking the university’s added emphasis on film studies. The theatre department rebranded last semester as the Department of Theatre & Film after the announcement of a newly offered Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in film production.
The new BFA program launched this semester and currently has 13 of its 16 available slots filled. Four of these students are sophomores who decided to stay at Ole Miss an extra year so that they could join and complete the major.
What would grow into the one-minute film competition started as just an extra credit project.
Harrison Witt, assistant professor of film production, gave the option to his introduction to cinema class. The course focuses on film appreciation, and Witt wanted to find a way for students to get the level of appreciation he says can only come from making a film yourself.
Witt said he tells students approaching one-minute films to “think about it in terms of a novel versus a short story versus a fortune cookie.” However, he said the shorter runtime does not inherently mean less effort is needed.
“Think about the level of production value that goes into commercials,” Witt said. “I’ve spent three days working on a commercial that was going to be 30 seconds long. That’s crazy.”
After his initial test run, Witt made the one-minute film assignment a regular part of the class curriculum. He said the results were so positive that he decided to add it to the UM Film Festival.
Tony King, a sophomore theatre major with a film emphasis, said he plans on submitting to the one-minute film competition as well as to the separate competition for longer films.
Last year, King won in the “Body of Short Films” category at the UM Film Festival for three of his short films. He said the best of the three was a one-minute comedy titled “Budget Dude” that he made for Witt’s class.
King said the unique challenges of producing a one-minute film make it easier to fail than with longer pieces.
“You really have to focus on the point,” King said. “It’s easy to pack in a bunch a jokes, but at the end, there has to be a point to it.”
To accomplish this, King said he completely flips his typical process.
“I start at the end,” King said. “This is what I want to accomplish … (then I) fill the rest in.”
Sarah Hennigan, who joined the UM staff last month as an assistant professor of film production, said she has consistently found that the limits of the one-minute format make students more creative.
“(Students) work really hard on finding those very specific, nuanced parts of storytelling in order to make it work,” Hennigan said.
One-minute films are also appealing to the festival because they allow multiple entries representing a variety of genres. Hennigan said that because the projects don’t take up much time, viewers are more willing to consider a film that is from a genre they might not usually prefer.
Witt said Oxford is ready for a film culture much greater than the foundation that is already here.
“I think having a flagship university with an exceptional film program where our actors are working with our filmmakers is going to create something really unique,” Witt said. “Not just in this area, but in the country.”