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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, December 11, 2023

Weekender: Malcolm Turvey previews COVID-eo Film Festival and Competition

A poster for the Tufts Film and Media Studies Department "COVID-eo Film Festival and Competition" is pictured.

For the first time in its six-year existence, the Tufts film and media studies (FMS) program will hold a student film festival and competition.

Tufts students will have their short films screened to the community on Thursday, Dec. 3 via Vimeo and Facebook. Students from every Tufts campus can submit their work, as long as it is two minutes or shorter. Aside from the two-minute limit, there are no restrictions on the form of these films. As the event webpage states, “We welcome all forms of filmmaking, including narrative fiction, documentary, experimental, animation, or hybrid forms--whether polished productions or iPhone footage.”

The Daily had the opportunity to sit down and discuss this exciting event via Zoom with Malcolm Turvey, director of the FMS program and professor in the Department of History of Art and Architecture. 

The Tufts Daily (TD): [Why haven’t there been] Tufts student film festival competitions like this in the past?

Malcolm Turvey (MT): It's only really in the last couple of years that we've had a critical mass of students coming out of our program, who would be willing and able to do a festival and competition of some kind. So, last year, we almost did one, and for various reasons we decided not to, but we always thought that we would do one in the very near future. And then this opportunity presented itself. So we decided, it’s time to start this. So I think we do hope that it will be a regular event. Obviously once the pandemic ... has passed us by, it will no longer be a “COVID-eo” film festival and competition. But now that we have a critical mass of film production students and a general film production culture at Tufts, along with the requisite equipment and facilities and so on … I think we are in a place where we can hold a regular festival of some kind.

Though the hope is that only this year’s festival is COVID-19-adjacent, Turvey explains that the unique experience of being a college student and living through a pandemic is a solid raison d’être for such a film festival. 

MT: The primary impetus for the festival was a sense of disconnection from students. This current situation presents a lot of challenges to all of us. One of the challenges it presents to faculty and staff is that, when you see students, you're either on a screen … or you are seeing them in a lecture hall or a large room at some distance, and everyone's got a mask on, right? So the sense of ... both disconnection and not really knowing how students are doing in the current situation was what really prompted the festival. So we really are looking for films that reflect, in some sort of interesting or innovative way, on life under COVID.

As this is a competition, there will be prizes for select filmmakers. First and second places will receive $200 and $100 prizes, respectively.

Winners will be chosen by a panel of judges, made up of various FMS staff. Though all in the FMS program, some of the judges will not have a filmmaking background. Turvey, for example, who teaches film history but not filmmaking, will be a judge.

MT: We want a kind of range of views. We don't just want filmmakers to judge these films.

TD: You want the Rotten Tomatoes critic score and the Rotten Tomatoes audience score.

MT: That’s a good way of putting it.

Turvey emphasizes that the judges are not looking for anything in particular in the shorts, aside from an honest representation of how COVID-19 is affecting day-to-day student life. This is not to say that the films have to be non-fictional, documentary-style accounts. The point is that the films should strive to be as true to their creator’s COVID-19-altered psyche as possible. 

Turvey provided some film history knowledge when asked about how he thinks COVID-19 will affect professional cinema in the coming years. 

MT: One of the interesting ... things that people talk about in the current situation is the influenza epidemic of 1918. And one of the astonishing things about that epidemic, given how many people [were] killed and how lethal it was, is just how little trace it left on culture. It's very hard to find references to it within novels and plays and poems and films and so on. Remember, by 1918, Hollywood is going very strong already, so it's not as if there isn't a film industry. I wonder whether, you know, it's been such a ... depressing and difficult time that people will want to move on pretty quickly. That would be my guess. Now, of course, I'm sure there will be films and television shows, et cetera, that make reference to it or even are about it, but I have a sneaky feeling that we're all going to want to put this behind us as quickly as possible. Again, I could be completely wrong. But it is interesting to think about that precedent of the [1918] influenza epidemic and how little impact it had on culture.

The competition will undoubtedly be a fresh way to cultivate a film presence at Tufts, but it is not the only event the FMS program hopes will do so. 

Turvey points to a biannual industry night, where “[the FMS program has brought] back typically between … 20 to 25 alums who have high profile positions in the film and media industries, in journalism, in public relations and marketing, in talent management, in filmmaking, in TV and so on. That event usually attracts between 100 and 150 students … and many of those students aren't [FMS] majors. [They are] students who are interested in some sort of career in the [FMS] industries,” according to Turvey.

He also highlights the frequent film screenings and guest lecturers that the FMS program has brought to campus. 

MT: My colleague, who teaches in the filmmaking part of the [FMS] program, Jennifer Burton … has a whole series of women-in-movies events, where women who are filmmakers, cinematographers, editors and so on ... they come to campus to give talks. That kind of event does draw in a wider community, because it's not just people who are interested in filmmaking who will come to an event like that. It’s also people who are interested, perhaps, from the more theoretical point of view. They're interested in the issue of women in the film and entertainment industries. 

Ultimately, Turvey attributes much of the bright future for the FMS program to its recent move into Barnum Hall. 

MT: We've always had to borrow other people's spaces to [put on events] in the past. But now that we have our own spaces, [our own] environment, all of this will become much easier.

To quote Tony Soprano, “It’s good to be in something from the ground floor.” Tune into the COVID-eo Film Festival on Thursday, Dec. 3, and watch — or maybe even join in on — what looks to be the awakening of a wonderful, creative part of Tufts.