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Emerson Film Festival in LA brings filmmakers together

by Emily Woods / Beacon Correspondent • February 28, 2013

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Screenshot from Clarke's film.
courtesy of Shaun Clarke
Screenshot from Clarke's film.
courtesy of Shaun Clarke

Ask Emerson visual and media arts majors what their goals are post-graduation, and many will respond with only two words: Los Angeles.  While many students have their sights set on gaining acclaim in the Southern California film scene, a handful of Emerson students and alumni have already made this dream a reality, and will have their work showcased at the 13th annual Emerson Film Festival in L.A.

This year’s showcase and festival, which will be held at the Harmony Gold Preview House, features a question-and-answer session with seasoned director James McTeigue.  McTeigue spent earlier years of his career working as an assistant director for the Matrix trilogy, and went on to make his directorial debut in the critically acclaimed V for Vendetta.

The student films being showcased include The King of the House by Paul Michael MacCarty, ’16; Graceland Girls by Jordan Salvatoriello, MFA ’12; Love or Farewell by Shaun Clarke, MFA ’12; Solutionism: A Design Documentary by Hsiao-Yen Jones, ’14; and Got You by Bianca Morris, ‘12. The filmmakers, though all united by Emerson, have vastly different backgrounds and distinct approaches to film.

Salvatoriello, 35, worked in journalism, public relations, photography and the non-profit world for quite some time before falling into film. Her showcased film, Graceland Girls, reflects each of these past interests.

“The film is about the power of girl education in rural Kenya,” said Salvatoriello. “Educating its adolescent girls has proven to be the cornerstone of Kenyan development, yet so many are denied equal access to education, social and economic equality and respect. Graceland Girls provides an intimate look at how the high school students at Graceland Girls School in central Kenya have, so far, defied the odds.”

For a documentary director, Salvatoriello has an unconventional approach.

“I gave the girls cameras and taught them basic photography so they could help tell their own story,” she said, “rather than having me be a mouthpiece for them.”

Salvatoriello said that she handled all aspects of production myself, while also juggling teaching and photography. 

“I wanted to pursue more social issue storytelling to help causes that are near and dear to my heart,” she said about her filmmaking. 

However, the reception of Salvatoriello’s film shows that this issue may be close to her viewer’s hearts as well. She received several accolades for her work, including a peer award from her former Emerson classmates, and invitations to participate in the prestigious Chicago International Social Change Film Festival (CISCFF) and the Women’s Independent Film Festival in West Hollywood.

Clarke, who is being recognized for his film Love or Farewell, played around with production roles as well.  The 27-year-old Mass. native is a cinematographer, but decided to take a stab at directing. He said his film is challenging for some audiences to understand, and that the film itself is loosely based on a James Joyce short story.

Love and Farewell is a collection of five dance films is rooted in the short story Eveline, found in James Joyce’s Dubliners. Each short explores the potential to transform dance performance into a story. The “love” and “farewell” mentioned in the title sum it up fairly well; Clarke’s work is essentially about a young girl struggling with leaving home for the first time to be with the man she intends to marry.

Clarke encourages aspiring filmmakers to try out different jobs that go into putting together a movie.

Both Clarke and Salvatoriello have gone through extensive training in their field to get their work to Los Angeles screens.

“My biggest advice to film students is to get involved with as many projects and people at school as your schedule can stand,” Clarke said. “Forget sleep. This will teach you about the working styles of other filmmakers, while also teaching you more about yourself as an artist.”