Take three

HCFFIn year three, the Harvard College Film Festival may be the new kid on the block, but Gussie Roc '17 hopes it remains an annual tradition of artistic exploration and community conversation. 

By Olivia Munk '16

Filmmakers aspire to have their films screened at festivals such as Telluride, Sundance, Tribeca, and Cannes. They can now add the Harvard College Film Festival to the list. In its third year, the festival features submissions from around the world, a variety of screenings, Q&As with professionals in the industry and a place for Harvard students interested in filmmaking to engage in conversations on their own campus. With the 2016 festival up and running through April 3, I spoke with co-director Gussie Roc ’17 about what it takes to organize a festival of this scale, what events are offered and how the arts are evolving at Harvard.

Harvard College Film FestivalHow did you first get involved in the film festival?
The mission of the festival is to create a film community for people interested film extra-curricularly. I did it my sophomore year after attending festival events my freshman year. I thought it was cool because I did a lot of theater, and I wanted to do film, but not in an academic way. I joined the team as events associate last year, and I am running it this year.

What kinds of events are there?
This year, it’s been very focused on screenings and inviting people to talk about them. By doing a screenings about topics such as sexual assault or mental health, we hope to engage other members of Harvard’s community organically. A lot of our focus has been on our identity: There are other student film festivals, but what makes ours unique? We thought a lot about how we wanted to make ourselves different, while playing to Harvard’s strengths. 

What makes a good film festival?
A good film festival can engage different kinds of people. For example, we’re hosting virtual reality events, but also events about documentary, fiction and indie films. People listen to different kinds of music and watch different movies, and they like all of them for different reasons.  To me, a mark of success is when a festival hits upon all kinds of interests. 

What goes into organizing something like a student film festival?
It’s a lot of emails. You start out with an idea of what or who you want, and what kinds of events you want to have. At the end of the day, it’s a lot of what “sticks.” We really consciously made partnerships with distribution companies. A lot of our screenings depended on what kinds of films they wanted to give us. Through that, we would say we’re screening, for example, The Dark Horse. Let’s ask the distribution company if they’d want to participate in a conversation. We organized a lot of our conversations that way.

Do you think the theater, dance and media concentration will change film at Harvard?
I think Harvard’s doing something really interesting right now by emphasizing arts. When someone advised me to apply here and said, “I think Harvard’s a really good fit for you.” And I do think it is, but I didn’t think of it as a place to do art. But now, I think they’re making a really conscientious effort to make it a place to do art, such as the re-opening of the Harvard Art Museum, and the creation of the theater, dance and media concentration. I think that, suddenly, people are being rewarded for that academically. I’m not necessarily certain that TDM will change things for film in a linear way, but just the fact that the campus as a whole is putting more of an emphasis and value on the arts will help arts communities across the board. 

How do you hope the film festival will impact the arts community here?
I think starting something new here is interesting, because a lot of things at Harvard have been around for at least 100 years. You have to respect that fact that you’re not reaping the benefits of what it is going to be in 10 years. It’s cool that you can set it up, and see it grow every year. I think it’s been one of the greatest learning experiences for me while I’ve been here, because it involves a lot of forward thinking, a lot of resourcefulness and a mentality about building things for the future. I would love for people to be able to find a home to engage in film, the way people can already find homes within theater, dance and music. Hopefully, the festival will help facilitate some of those things, and be a place where people know they can come if they want to have those kinds of conversations, and meet people who are interested in them, too. I also hope that we can do things that help facilitate people to make films.

The Harvard College Film Festival has a variety of screenings, conversations, and panels now through April 3. Click here for a full calendar of events.