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Student films selected for Detroit showcaseA scene from Canvassing the Soul

Student films selected for Detroit showcase

Two documentaries by Communication, Media, and Film students have been selected for the Detroit FREEP Film Festival’s Real Fresh Student Showcase.

Sara Grabauskas’s Canvassing the Soul and Carolina Di Grado’s Lookin’ Good, Feelin’ Good will be screened at Cinema Detroit on Sept. 24, at 4 p.m., and online from Sept. 22 to 29.

The showcase spotlights the work of student documentary filmmakers from Michigan State University, Oakland University, University of Michigan, and Wayne State University, as well as University of Windsor. Faculty representatives from each of the five schools nominated a total of 26 student films. From that group, a jury chose 10 shorts as representing some of the best documentary work from the region’s schools.

“I’m very proud of Sara and Carolina,” says film professor Nick Hector. “It’s an honour to even be selected by the University for consideration as they faced very strong competition here in Windsor. To make it to the final 10 alongside films from the Michigan universities is quite an achievement.”

Due to COVID restrictions, students in Prof. Hector’s course “Intermediate Documentary” worked as individuals or within their household bubbles rather than as part of a class team. The process began by creating a detailed production plan, covering all the bases. Students planned out what equipment they were going to use, and the locations where they were filming.

Students developed the list of questions to ask, if they were doing an interview portion, and developed the shot list needed for the B-roll footage that would be edited in. Finally, students went over the ethical standards and the COVID-19 protocol to make sure that everything was safe.

“Even though students were creating their own documentaries, we all had opportunities all throughout the process to show rushes, and different stages of assembly and give feedback to one another,” says Grabauskas. “Although COVID restrictions made it challenging, it was a rewarding experience to write, direct, photograph and edit the film.”

For Grabauskas (BA 2021), this documentary was her senior project. Her film is a classic documentary portrait of an artist, her grandmother.

“My grandma inspires me. She took up painting later in life,” she says. “I wanted to learn more about her journey to become an artist and the process behind it. The message is no matter your age, you are never too old to pursue your passion.”

Hector calls the resulting film visually elegant and cleverly constructed: “Rather than probe the superficial mechanics of the artist’s work, Sara probes the theme of the creative drive in the context of aging.”

The second showcased film is Di Grado’s Lookin’ Good, Feelin’ Good.

“Carolina’s work is a modern poetic/essay hybrid documentary. The film is shrewdly and respectfully reflexive in its visual representation of young women addressing issues of body image,” says Hector. “She manages to make a heartwarming and often funny film about a serious and important topic. That’s hard to pull off.”

Di Grado, a fourth-year student, recruited her roommates to be her interview subjects since they were already in the same COVID bubble.

“I had my initial ideas of where I wanted the film to go, but of course, depending on the answers of each of the girls, I would have to make adjustments to the arc of the story,” she explains. “But in the end, we actually got the result that I wanted and I'm extremely proud of the film.”

Fellow film student and close friend Liam Brownrigg Bartra came into the project after the end of the semester to help fine tune the film to be submitted to the festival.

.The film includes a paint sequence, shot in their living room because it had the largest window and largest light source, and the biggest space to fit four women together in the frame.

“We put the different colours of paint on plates on the floor and just covered the entire floor with plastic garbage bags so it wouldn't get dirty. I directed their body motions to flow better with the shots,” says Di Grado. “They painted their bodies as a visual metaphor to indicate women regaining control over their own image. It was a powerful and meaningful moment for everyone involved.”

The five-day Freep Film Festival is produced by the Detroit Free Press, Michigan’s largest news organization, in cooperation with its business and events arm, Michigan.com.

Information and tickets for both in-person and virtual screenings are available on the festival website: https://freepfilmfestival.com/real-fresh-showcase-and-competition/.

—Susan McKee