Fokus Film Festival 2020 Brings Student Films to a Laptop Near You

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Whether a diehard cinephile or a novice filmmaker, Fokus Film Festival provides McGill students with the opportunity to share their films with the community. Organized by TVM: Student Television at McGill, Fokus sheds the competitiveness of a traditional film festival by giving filmmakers of all levels a chance to share their artistic endeavors on the big screen. Esteemed judges ranging from Cultural Studies professors at McGill to the Co-Director of Cinéma Moderne score the works, honouring one film per category with an award. Viewers then participate by voting for their overall favorite film at the end of the night. 

Fokus 2020 was originally set to premiere last April, but when COVID-19 hit, the committee was forced to relocate to Facebook and Youtube via a livestream that took place on October 8th. Current President of TVM and Executive Director of Fokus Tory Fortunato spoke to me about moving Fokus to an online platform. 

“The biggest challenge about an online film festival is that you’re always going to miss the community aspect,” shared Fortunato. “With an online film festival, you just can’t have that same spontaneous discussion.” 

However, Fortunato also described how a digital Fokus had its share of benefits. “[Having Fokus online] reliev[ed] the stress and financial impact of booking venues,” she said. “[It also] increas[ed] the accessibility of the festival by making the programming available online for free… we were also able to include closed captioning for the festival, which is typically something left out during the in-person screening.” 

Fokus sheds the competitiveness of a traditional film festival by giving filmmakers of all levels a chance to share their artistic endeavors on the big screen.

Running at just over an hour and forty minutes, Fokus 2020 was composed of four categories: comedy, documentary, and experimental submissions, as well as a 72-hour filmmaking competition. In the 72-hour category, students were given 72 hours to produce a film that incorporates various prompts, such as including the dialogue “Don’t touch that!” and using olive oil as a prop. 

The festival livestream was hosted by the Fokus committee with a video of one of its coordinators introducing each category. The introductions between each section added a personal touch that set Fokus apart from any other streaming experience by situating the festival in the McGill community.

Each of the films triggers a range of emotions that is cathartic to experience. Some may make you laugh, forgetting the woes of life, and some take you into intimate moments that may cause you to think in a new way. 

Maxine Grenon Dequoy’s film “Rachel Grenon, Céramiste” is particularly heartfelt as Grenon Dequoy invites us into her mother’s ceramics studio and showcases their mother-daughter relationship. She cuts between wide shots of her mother immersed in her work and more intimate close-ups. The two women discuss Maxine’s alienation from her mother’s art as a teenager as well as her mother’s challenges of nurturing both her passion for ceramics and her love for her daughter. Healing takes place as the women ask big questions and share vulnerabilities while the mother creates her art in front of the camera with her daughter behind it.  

Each of the films triggers a range of emotions that is cathartic to experience. Some may make you laugh, forgetting the woes of life, and some take you into intimate moments that may cause you to think in a new way.

Some of the films even take on added meanings with footage from a world before COVID, such as Callum Sheedy’s documentary “The Story Behind OAP.” Clips of big crowds drinking beers, hugging friends, and dancing to the vibrations of OAP performances create a euphoric viewing experience. Even the interviewees proudly telling the camera that they have been packed in line for three hours are enviable.

“McGill for Samosas”, a comedy video produced by Tory Fortunato, Eddie Cai, and Maria Jimenez, is another standout that parodies the infamous “We are the world” video. This film holds extra nostalgia, reminding us of a time when the ban of Samosa sales was the most drastic change in our McGill lives. 

There are always familiar faces at Fokus. The festival gives McGill students a chance to see a creative and often more vulnerable side of students they may recognize from more formal, academic settings. McGill is a school bursting with creativity, and without a fine arts program, students have to find other ways to express themselves artistically. Fokus creates opportunities for filmmakers to honour their artistic accomplishments, and for viewers to expose themselves to creativity in their own community.

The community aspect of Fokus remained intact this year as the festival highlights the work of McGill students from all disciplines and social circles. Watching films made by peers is like running into someone you recognize in the hallway of the Arts Building, striking up a conversation, and getting to know a new side of them. 

The festival gives McGill students a chance to see a creative and often more vulnerable side of students they may recognize from more formal, academic settings.

The Fokus team created a space for McGill filmmakers to share and inspire, even if that space is not physical. An added benefit of Fokus’ transition to an online format is that the program remains available to view on the Fokus Film Festival Facebook page and the TVM Youtube channel. Turn off all the lights, make some buttered popcorn, and get your roommates to watch the Fokus program with you. You might get so lost in the films, you’ll forget you’re in your own bedroom. 

 

Winners of Fokus Film Festival 2020

72-Hour Filmmaking Contest

“We Are Not Separate Entities, But the Same” by Sequoia Kim

Comedy

“10 Second Bits” by Hannah Kahn Glass and Chloé Reddy

Documentary – TIE

“Marjolaine” by Guillaume Carrel and Justin Vicat-Blanc and “Rachel Grenon, Céramiste” by Maxine Grenon Dequoy

Experimental

“Another Grandson’s Story” by Brandon Kaufman

Fan Favourite

“Quebec in 1989” by Stanley Pham

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