Strong Emerson presence at Boston Student Film Festival

by Jason Madanjian / Beacon Staff • March 13, 2013

Two Emerson students and one alum — Qinshu Zuo, Peter Ferris Rosati,  and Jeremy Weiss — are among the 12 finalists in the second annual Boston Student Film Festival (BSFF), tying Boston University for the most represented school in the online showcase, only available to students attending college in New England. 

On March 18, the general public can access the films on the festival’s websites and vote for its favorite. The director with the most votes will move on to the New England Film Festival, one of BSFF’s collaborators.  

After graduating from Northeastern University with a degree in communications and cinema studies in 2011, Kelly Soule said she found Boston to be a desert for the filmmaking community in a city brimming with a pool of talent. 

Two years ago, she co-founded the Boston Student Arts Network, a non-profit community center and resource for Boston art students. Among its many endeavors is the BSFF, which announced its finalists on March 7. 

“It’s surprising there was no festival for students before this,” said Soule, who hopes the fest catches the eye of industry professionals. “It’s exciting to see what’s coming up next in the industry; I hope they will be excited to see the new talent coming out of Boston.”

Currently filming her thesis in China, graduate student Zuo stressed the significance of story in her submission Touch.

Touch is about a young Mexican girl who, upon losing her job, goes to a massage parlor in Chinatown. There, she meets a blind masseur who lost his vision at the age of six. What follows is a heartfelt chat about how they both feel and see the world.

Zuo said she got the idea a year and a half ago when she encountered a blind masseur. She then wrote the piece for a whole semester before beginning to film last March. Now, Zuo has a chance to expose her work to a much wider audience because of her nomination.

“It’s very nice to get that validation,” said Zuo. “It is giving me the confidence and energy to finish my thesis.”

Rosati, another Emerson grad student, earned a nomination for Le Blue Stella, a short about two boys who bond inside their homemade spacecraft. 

The last nominee to represent Emerson, Weiss, earned his MFA degree in media arts in May, and was happy to get picked for his light-hearted short Riff-Raf. 

“You never go into these submission festivals expecting anything,” said Weiss, who claims it difficult for filmmakers to put their finger on what various festivals are looking for. “I was preparing for the worst but hoping for the best.”

His 15-minute film follows a jazz musician who, upon missing his train for a career-defining gig, ends up in a classical orchestra.

“The theme of the film is finding common ground,” said Weiss, referring to  the unlikely bond between classical and jazz music. “It’s about bringing together two types of music that don’t go together.”

When crafting a story, Weiss said he finds inspiration from Aristotle’s philosophy on storytelling. 

“Storytelling is one of the few things we do that no other species does,” he said. “I’d like to add a chapter to what is important in life.”

After recently shadowing on the set of  the CBS television show Vegas, Weiss realized that his film Riff-Raf was instrumental to his learning process as a filmmaker. 

“This film gave me the tools to prepare for what a real set was like,” said Weiss. On the final day of shooting his movie, he said over 100 actors were under his direction, including a full orchestra.

“I chose to challenge myself to go get things that were not readily available,” he said.

Instead, Weiss composed a PR campaign of writing letters and attending concerts to make the necessary connections to recruit a conductor, musicians, and theater space. He didn’t want his film to solely rely on the help of his friends and the use of their apartments as movie sets.

Now based in Los Angeles, Weiss said he is thrilled his entry into the festival highlights the work of his cast and crew, but is unsure how much weight the nomination will have on the trajectory of his film career.

“I don’t know if it means I’m on the right path,” said Weiss.

But for Soule, she’s hoping the selection provides, at the very least, an encouraging push in the right direction for all nominees.

“We are hoping [the film festival] inspires students to not only continue filmmaking, but to enjoy their experiences.”