During his first year at Emerson, senior Jacob Falberg pulled an all-nighter to direct and edit a film for Emerson’s 48 Hour Film Festival.
He reminisced about collaborating with another editor, blasting King of the Hill in his suite’s common room, and drinking Monster Energy to stay awake through the night. Falberg cherished that experience so much that when he returned to campus as a resident assistant in fall 2019 in the film immersion living and learning community, he couldn’t wait to start planning the festival for this semester.
However, the 48 Hour Film Festival has been postponed indefinitely by the Department of Housing and Residence Life. It will not occur this semester due to concerns of students’ self-care, raised in the Visual and Media Arts Department. Traditionally, the festival occurs each semester and spans over two days where students write, film, direct, and edit three-minute films to show at the festival.
Department of Visual and Media Arts Chair Brooke Knight said Leonard Manzo, director of production and safety for the department, came to him with concerns regarding the format of the festival following the conclusion of the spring 2019 competition. Knight and Manzo agreed that participating students may not have all the necessary experience or training to shoot their film in the best way, and that the time-induced pressure may cause students to put themselves at risk.
“My feeling is that, as a department, trying to encourage best practices, we don’t want to encourage a situation where best practices are nearly impossible to follow,” Knight said in an interview. “And therefore expose students to risk that may impact the rest of their lives.”
In the weeks following last semester’s festival, Knight and Manzo brought these concerns to Elizabeth Ching-Bush, former assistant dean of campus life; Erik Muurisepp, associate dean of campus life; and Sharon Duffy, former assistant vice president of student affairs. Knight and Manzo recommended the college not host the festival any longer. In a phone interview, Muurisepp said the festival will be revamped as opposed to cancelled. After reconstruction, the 48 Hour Film Festival will return, but that date remains unknown.
Falberg also serves as the president of Delta Kappa Alpha, a national, professional, and gender-inclusive fraternity branded as a cinematic society. Members of the organization developed the idea of a one-minute film festival open to all Emerson students that will function similarly to the 48 Hour Film Festival.
According to Falberg, the one-minute films for this festival will still be produced in 48 hours, and the $3 entrance fee for each team will be donated to Serious Fun Children’s Network, servicing terminally ill children with recreational opportunities.
Falberg said that Delta Kappa Alpha worked with faculty in the Visual and Media Arts Department to solidify guidelines for their new festival.
“We were always going to try to do it in, like, a November-ish time period—it’s just coincidental, honestly, that the 48 [Hour Film Festival] didn’t happen and is kind of giving the one-minute [festival] a little bit more time to develop on its own without the 48,” Falberg said. “Which, we’ll see how that goes—it could completely flop for all we know. But it’s all about the fun experience of it.”
Muurisepp said he has heard concerns around the functionality of the 48 Hour Film Festival in recent years, though it has been successful among students.
“Are we missing the mark? Is it doing what it needs to be doing?” Muurisepp said. “‘And are we taking into consideration the wellness and the health of the students participating?’”
Though Knight and Manzo initially voiced concerns with the festival, they said the Visual and Media Arts Department did not have jurisdiction to cancel the festival—the film immersion living and learning community organizes it.
Falberg said he and other RAs on the film immersion floor hoped to begin planning the festival when they arrived on campus in late August.
Following their arrival, Falberg and his fellow RAs were informed by Little Building Residence Director Acacia Santos of the conversations regarding the festival within the VMA Department. Around September, Santos told the RAs that the department believed the festival caused too much stress for students.
Falberg said he and his RA colleagues brainstormed solutions for the issues raised by the department. They proposed discussing self-care more in depth with the student body who planned to participate or planning the festival on a three-day weekend so students had a day after the festival to rest before resuming classes. Falberg said Santos sent an email to Knight detailing these suggestions, but to his knowledge, no one from the department responded.
Knight said he does not recall receiving this email; however he also noted that he gets many emails each day.
While Knight and the department have no control over the occurrence of the festival, Muurisepp said Santos has been working to arrange further conversations with the administration on how to improve the festival.
Students never received information regarding the status of the festival directly, so it fell to film immersion RAs to relay the information when asked about the festival. Muurisepp said he aims to inform students more thoroughly in the future.
“We don’t want to have students feeling like there’s a lot of stress and pressure around this, what should be a fun and exciting program, so we’re working closely with [Knight] and his team on sort of expanding the whole program,” Muurisepp said. “So it’s not that it’s going away—not at any point did we say we’re not doing it—we’re hitting pause and seeing how we can expand it and make it more robust.”
Sophomore VMA major Jake Bourke only found out after posing a question about the festival in a class of 2018 Facebook group.
“It was something I enjoyed doing a lot and once the semester began, I was checking my emails, trying to see if there was any information, and as October came around, I’m like, ‘Okay, this should’ve happened by now,’” Bourke said in an interview. “So I went on to the Facebook page and just asked, ‘Hey, is this happening this year? Is it running late, what’s going on?’ And ultimately I did get the response, which was admittedly disappointing.”
Morgan Bay, a sophomore VMA major, said she felt devastated when she read Bourke’s post and discovered there would not be a festival. Bay said that while the festival is stressful, she sees that as a learning experience.
“Just by experiencing going through a 48-hour film festival, each time, you kind of know what the judges are expecting and what is the most effective way to shoot all this,” Bay said in an interview. “So it all kind of teaches me a lot about how the whole thing is organized and how to execute a film very well in a short amount of time.”
Falberg echoed Bay’s sentiment about the festival providing educational opportunities for participants. Falberg said that, while he believes self-care is important, students will most likely find themselves in high-stress situations later in life, so the festival is a learning experience in that regard.
“I think the [48 Hour Film Festival] definitely falls under that category for both learning how to take care of yourself under stressful situations, learning how to work with people with quick turnaround times, learning how to divide and conquer,” Falberg said. “You know, knowing your limits too.”
Senior Sarah Duval organized the fall 2018 and spring 2019 festivals and sees the festival as a culmination of the college’s ideals of collaboration and communication and a place to practice what is taught in the classroom.
“It’s always good to practice those skills of thinking on your feet, coming up with something creative in a short amount of time,” Duval said.
Duval recalled when she worked on films for the festival and how that strengthened her connection to her peers.
“Those memories I made my freshman year were probably the most fun memories that I had at Emerson for my entire freshman year,” Duval said. “It’s just a really fun experience to get to know people in such an intense way.”
While Fallberg said he respects the reasoning behind not holding the festival, he believes the issue should have been handled differently and wishes administration had worked with him and his fellow resident assistants to devise solutions before postponing the festival.
“I think it’s just taking opportunities off the table instead of working through the bumps that have come along the road,” said Falberg.
While Knight recommended the festival end due to it structural issues, he recognizes the benefits it had.
“I think there are parts of the 48 Hour Film Festival that were really, really positive and great for students,” Knight said. “An opportunity to get to know one another, to have to work together, to solve problems together, and to make something they’re proud of at the end of the day.”