When the final panel discussion wrapped up and the credits had rolled on the last of the more than 20 films screened at the 2022 Bates Film Festival, the Bates students who produced the festival as part of their coursework still had some work to do.
But their assignment was a fun one, namely the business of counting ballots, choosing winners, and sending out awards in six categories.
The awards aren’t just about giving recognition to the filmmakers — although that is essential — they are part of the educational experience. The students became the “jury” for BFF.
“The deliberations led students to mobilize ideas they learned in their Bates classes in a practical discussion that had real-world implications for the films being considered,” says Associate Professor of Rhetoric, Film, and Screen Studies Jonathan Cavallero, whose course “Film Festival Studies,” teaches students how to produce a festival from start to finish.
“The debates around awards tend to define the post-festival discussions in a wonderfully appropriate way,” Cavallero says.
Namely, students advocate for the films they love, put the scholarly theories they’ve studied to use in practical ways and consider a range of perspectives, including each other’s. “They reach a consensus and, ultimately, see the results of that work immediately,” their professor says.
The jury’s top prize for narrative feature went to The 24th, a historical drama released in 2020. It’s about an all-Black military unit in Houston in 1917 and their mutiny over racism within the military and the community.
The 24th was directed by Kevin Willmott who co-wrote BlackKklansman with director Spike Lee; the duo share the Academy Award for best adapted screenplay. Willmott visited Bates in 2017 to show and discuss another film he and Lee co-wrote, Chi-raq, a riff on Lysistrata of Aristophanes, but set in modern day Chicago amid gang violence.
Best Short Film went to Her Dance (2020), and the documentary award was awarded to a 2020 film about students at Lowell High School in San Francisco going through the admissions process, called Try Harder! “We feel very honored and can’t wait to tell the whole team — especially cannot wait to tell your alum, and our Field Producer, Lauren Kawana,” director Debbie Lum, told the class.
Audiences also had a chance to reward the films they loved. At the venues for this year’s festival, on campus and, for the first time, at a satellite location in Freeport, the Nordica Theatre, audiences filled out ballots that the students collected at each screening and tabulated after the festival to determine the three Audience Award winners.
Audiences awarded the film Bébé’s Kids (1992), directed by the festival’s special guest, Bruce W. Smith, the award for narrative feature. It’s 30 years old but earned a following after its release.
“I am honored and flattered that this film sits as a fond memory for animation fans around the nation,” Smith said in a statement. He’d traveled to Lewiston and participated in multiple interviews, including a panel discussion at Schaeffer Theatre on the closing day of the festival.
“When directing Bébé’s Kids I certainly didn’t know how it would be received, but it’s heartening to know that people have good feelings while watching the film. Thank you, Bates College, for having me and for embracing all of us at this festival.”
The Audience Award for documentary was a tie, between 2020’s On the Record and 2022’s Framing Agnes, both of which received perfect scores.
Each winner receives a cash award of $500. The awards are “modest by film festival standards,” Cavallero says. But meaningful. “The monetary part of the award is important to us. The Bates Film Festival would not exist if filmmakers were not willing to share their work with us.”
Most festivals charge filmmakers a submission fee, he says. Bates does not. And many festivals ask filmmakers to attend but pay for only a portion of the trip, or nothing at all. “The Bates Film Festival does everything it can to pay for the entire cost of a filmmaker’s trip to our festival,” Cavallero says. “I sincerely hope that we can raise even more money for awards at future festivals because they help to support some truly extraordinary work.”
Gabriel Cuillier, co-writer and director of 2021’s Buy Sell Trade, which won the Audience Award for short film, plans to put his “awesome” honor, along with that cash award, to good use immediately — by submitting his now-award winning film to other festivals. “It would definitely be helpful for some of the submission fees,” he wrote to Cavallero.
The awards are specifically funded by a group that includes alumni who work in the entertainment industry:
Marco Black ’92 is a producer whose credits include film (Old School and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) and television (The Rookie, currently running on ABC), and Taylor Blackburn ’16 is a television writer.
Several parents contribute to the award fund as well: Ed Decter P’20, a screenwriter and showrunner; Steve Brookman P’21 who is co-director of Motion Picture Business Affairs at CAA; and Trey Callaway P’20, who contributes on behalf of his father-in-law, the late, legendary Mace Neufeld. Neufeld’s career went back to the 1970s and his more than 50 producing credits include several Jack Ryan movies, starting with The Hunt for Red October. The Harraseeket Inn in Freeport was also an awards sponsor.
The next Bates Film Festival is slated for 2024. “Ideas are circulating and conversations are already being had,” Cavallero says. “The one area that was repeatedly identified by students is the need to promote the panel discussions in the future. Without fail, some of the festival’s most memorable moments occur at those discussions, which are typically student led. Bigger audiences at those events would lead to even better conversations, so marketing that aspect of the festival is something we’ll look at next time.”
Here’s a full list of winners:
Jury Award for Narrative Feature: The 24th
Jury Award for Documentary Feature: Try Harder!
Jury Award for Best Short Film: Her Dance
Audience Award for Narrative Feature: Bébé’s Kids
Audience Award for Documentary Feature: On the Record and Framing Agnes (both tied with perfect scores)
Audience Award for Short Film: Buy Sell Trade