You don't need a big budget production to be an award-winning film director, and the Western Smartphone Film Festival proves that. The festival, which comes to Western Film on Feb. 10, will feature student-made movies — all filmed on phones.
Each year there is a new theme that the films adhere to. Although this year's theme is still under wraps, last year's films were about misinformation and technology. Last year's winning film, “YOU” by Allison Pao, Avery Enns and Asha Bicarie, highlights the dangers of technology by focusing on a student who's being followed by a stalker.
After the initial submission phase, the executive members of the Western Smartphone Film Festival decide on the top 10 films. It's the top 10 films that will be screened at the festival and judged by a panel. The top three teams will win $500, $200 and $100, respectively. There is also an Audience Choice Award with a prize of $100. The winners' films will be showcased at the Forest City Film Festival in London in October 2018.
Amaara Dhanji, the festival's executive director and third-year Ivey Business School student, explains that the festival is meant to allow a wide variety of people to participate. No experience or expensive equipment is required and submissions are open to any student currently enrolled in a Canadian university.
“We felt that students across Canada, as well as Western, really wanted to be able to use their creative means in film, even if they didn’t have the skills,” Dhanji says. “A lot of people did not have the access to create with expensive equipment, so it’s just essentially a platform for students to create and then be rewarded for their hard efforts.”
The Western Smartphone Film Festival is the first festival of its kind for university students. It presents students with a new and accessible creative outlet. Dhanji joined the festival’s team in its founding two years ago, as a graphic designer because she was drawn to the project's novelty and creative integrity.
“What really attracted me was the ability to create the brand that would then last for years forward,” she states.
The short films will be adjudicated by a guest panel of creative professionals, including both London- and Toronto-based directors. This year’s guest panelists include Jerry Ziler, Matthew Marshall, Noel Sargeant, Jason Seelmann and Reem Morsi. Although there have always been judges in the past, the panelists are a new feature of this year’s festival.
After the screenings, the panel will offer reviews of the films. The filmmakers and audience will also have the opportunity to ask the panel questions. This gives filmmakers the opportunity to speak directly to professionals about their work.
“In the past, we’ve never really had the chance for the filmmakers to be able to interact with the judges as well as the industry professionals, and we just wanted to create that connection this year because, at the end of the day, we’re doing this for the students,” Dhanji explains.
Although there are prizes and professional directors involved, Dhanji emphasizes that ultimately, the festival is about trying new things.
“It’s really just the ability for you to think about a video that you would like to make and meet up with friends and have fun creating something that you can showcase to people at school. Something that you’re proud of,” Dhanji emphasizes.
The top 10 films of the festival will be screened at Western Film on Feb. 10 from 1:30 to 4 p.m. Admission is free. More information on the festival can be found on the Western Smartphone Film Festival website.