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Ninth annual Eckerd College Film and Video Festival presents must-see student works

By Tom Zucco
Published May 9, 2024
Categories: About Eckerd, Academics, Awards, Film Studies, Students

A frame from Justin Hollis’s film Conscience

Movies about capturing armored catfish, the secrets a pair of veteran police officers keep, and a person struggling with mental health issues highlight the Eckerd College Film and Video Festival, which gets underway Friday, May 10, from 7 to 10 p.m. in the Dan and Mary Miller Auditorium on the Eckerd campus.

Now in its ninth year, the festival has grown from just under an hour in length in 2016 to three hours this year. Screenings will include three films from senior film studies students, the capstone of their Film Production Seminar, along with films from the program’s Narrative Filmmaking class led by Assistant Professor of Film Studies Katrin Pesch, Ph.D., and Introduction to Filmmaking classes led by Christian Nielsen Assistant Professor of Film Studies Nick Corrao. The festival also will include submissions from students across disciplines at the College.

“It’s a unique opportunity to see the vast variety of work the students did, and these aren’t just comedies and dramas,” Corrao explains.

A frame from Kaitlyn Copland’s festival film, pleco

“There are also environmental documentaries, experimental work and animated films. And they fit the liberal arts mission of the College. We have wonderfully talented filmmakers on campus.”

Among them are the three senior film studies students—Kaitlyn Copland, from Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida; Ben Wilson, from Lakeside Park, Kentucky; and Justin Hollis, from Miramar, Florida, who also is majoring in animal studies. In 2022, Justin’s film Leave a Message was awarded Best College Short Film at the St. Petersburg Sunscreen Film Festival.

This time, Justin is presenting Conscience, an intimate look at a young man struggling with commitment and mental health issues who encounters a relationship that doesn’t work out. “Film studies has allowed me to express myself in a way I might not normally be able to,” Justin explains. “I can express myself through the characters. And what I’ve learned is that [filmmakers] are a community of storytellers. Almost everything in filmmaking is about the way humans live. And there are themes—such as you’re never truly alone or that someone has dealt with a similar problem in the past, and if they can get through it, you can get through it. Those ideas are passed down to each generation.”

And then there are the armored catfish. Kaitlyn, who is majoring in marine science and minoring in film studies, explains that plecostomus, also called plecos or suckermouth catfish, invaded the springs “because it is a common aquarium pet that got too big for its tanks and the owners dumped them into the water. From there, these fish invaded the springs, especially Silver Springs and Silver Glen. I worked with the Fish Restoration Team at Silver Springs, who remove the plecos from the Silver River.”

And so the film pleco was born. With snorkel gear and underwater cameras, she recorded the capture of the fish and, later, the lab research conducted to try to control them. “I’m interested in combining marine science and film in my career, so pleco is the proof of concept that I can achieve this goal,” Kaitlyn adds.

“I hope that people walk away from this film with a greater appreciation for the springs, and that they understand why this ecosystem is the lifeblood of Florida.”

The variety and creativity of the work on display is impressive, says Christina Petersen, Ph.D., the Christian Nielsen Professor of Film Studies at Eckerd. “On a scale of 1 to 10, my excitement level is an 11. It means moving images are something important to the students at the College, and not just in Film Studies. So many people come out to see these films. It’s one of the best-attended events by students.”

As for the three seniors, Petersen adds that “they have taken the challenge to produce something that’s their own idea. They have the freedom to choose what they would like to make, and they understand that that freedom requires a lot of responsibility. It’s that ability we want them to take with them when they leave college. They know they have things to say, and now they know how to say them through this medium.”

Kaitlyn’s work—along with that of Davis Brooks, a junior creative writing and film studies student from Ormond Beach, Florida—was supported by Nielsen Film and Media Production Grants, a distinctive feature of the Eckerd Film Studies Program in which students can apply for $500–$1,000 to support their creative projects and pursue further professionalization opportunities. The grants are named after Eckerd College Trustee Emeritus Helmar E. Nielsen, who generously supports the program as well as film professorships in memory of his brother, Christian Nielsen.