Festival brings independent filmmakers

The Vassar Film Fest, held at the Jack Morton Auditorium last Saturday, Oct. 15, boasted a variety of independent films that covered topics ranging from human trafficking and AIDS in India to spoofing modern paranoia about public safety.

The event, organized by the Vassar Club of Washington D.C., showcased five films, two of which were made by Vassar graduates.

“Students need to publicly display (their work). The interaction makes them stronger,” said La Fleur Paysour, the program co-producer and master of ceremonies.

“The students are trained to be sensitive to what’s happening in the world and find a way to describe what is happening in a powerful way,” Paysour said.

The films were followed by question and answer sessions with the film’s director and technical contributors.

The first film, “Sita, a Girl from Jambu,” directed by Vassar professor Kathleen Man, was a hybrid documentary-fiction film exploring trafficking of young girls from rural Nepal into cities. Man said she was inspired by a street play written and performed by girls in Nepal, and she spliced footage of their performance to tell the story of Sita, a young girl sold into sexual slavery. She said the street play brought “awareness of human trafficking and AIDS to their community to empower those at risk.”

“If You See Something, Say Something,” a satirical analysis of the escalation of the war on terror and the repercussions of paranoia, was a surprise showing for director and recent graduate Clyde Folley.

“I actually didn’t know it was being shown here until a friend asked me about it last week,” Folley admitted.

“Fades with Age” directors Seth Roger Cuddeback and Aaron Naar characterized their film as an exploration of “an elderly man struggling to connect with his son and grandson in an increasingly fast-paced world.”

“You never know how the audience will react so we have to be prepared for anything in the question and answer period. There seems to be an age threshold for patience and appreciation of pacing,” Naar said of response to his film.

The afternoon got a shot of adrenaline from “Sympathetic Details,” an assassin thriller that more deeply evaluated morality in the face of mortality. Written and directed by Ben Busch – who recently appeared on the HBO series “The Wire” – the film was released at 37 festivals domestically and internationally.

Busch said his $50,000 budget forced him to shorten the script from 90 minutes to 57 minutes.

“It’s missing the nuances and character development,” Busch said of the truncated version. He emphasized that this version of the film is an unfinished product and that once he secures another $100,000 he would like to produce a film from the original script.

“So if anyone would like to contribute,” he said, teasing the audience.

Still, of all the films released at the festival, “Sympathetic Details” had the largest production budget.

Other works faced similar budgeting issues.

“Fades with Age” stretched their $2,500 budget by using Vassar’s alumni network to ask for contributions, both in money and filming locations.

“The office scene was shot on a Saturday in an alumni building. There was an enormous amount of trust,” Cuddeback said.

“You have to be crafty with funding and make that dollar go as far as it possibly can,” Folley said of working with a $600 budget.

Busch explained why he chose to release his film independently.

“Having the resources of a major studio would be nice but I couldn’t sacrifice creative control. (“Sympathetic Details”) doesn’t have a happy end, but it’s real; studio executives would want to change it for product appeal,” he said.

“The collection here has a multinational theme. We want to challenge the assumptions we make about daily life by looking at how different the day-to-day issues are in a different part of the world,” said Alan Dubow, a Vassar alumnus who attended the screening.

The annual festival’s proceeds benefit the Vassar Club of Washington D.C and its scholarship funds.

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