KINGSTON, R.I. – May 13, 2021 – Debuting a movie on the big screen is the dream of every young filmmaker. And on Thursday, May 20, about 40 students in two University of Rhode Island film production classes will realize that dream when their short films are screened at the Misquamicut Drive-In in Westerly.
Facing audience limits at Edwards Hall due to the pandemic, the Harrington School of Communication and Media’s Film/Media Department rented the drive-in to allow for a larger audience while still following health guidelines. Sixteen films – ranging in length from about 5 to 20 minutes – will be shown starting just after sunset at the drive-in, 316 Atlantic Ave., which has a capacity of 160 cars.
The screening is free and open to the public. To reserve a spot, go to the event’s registration site.
“I love the idea of hosting the screening at the drive-in theater,” said Chris Hetu, a senior from North Smithfield who directed one of the student films. “It allows more people to come and witness these awesome films from the semester. It will make people more comfortable being in an outdoor setting without worrying about being too close to one another.”
“The drive-in is a perfect pandemic response in my opinion,” said senior Audrey Hammond, of Burrillville, who was the set decorator for two of the films. “The entire film department has taken the pandemic seriously, going above and beyond the general safety measures. A drive-in screening is new territory for us, but we’ve never been scared of new things before.”
In the past, movies from film production classes were screened in Edwards Hall on the Kingston Campus, drawing between 150 to 200 people – students, family, friends, alumni and the public, said Keith Brown, a teaching professor in Film/Media.
But because of the pandemic, the screenings were canceled last spring, and last fall’s event was held in February, but limited to 50 people. Also, the hall was booked for commencement events and was unavailable for this spring’s screening.
“The students suggested the drive-in idea,” said Brown. “Part of me feels that if this works out really well, they’re going to want to do this every year. We’ll see how it goes, but we just had to get creative with how to do things. A lot of people couldn’t come to the February screening at Edwards.”
The 16 short films are the work of students in a senior capstone course and a class that teaches students about making films that can get accepted into film festivals. The movies range across genres and storylines, and include a period piece on the aftermath of the Salem witch trials, a special-effects film set in a dystopian world, and a documentary about young women who compete in extreme sports.
Alyssa Botelho, of Fairhaven, Massachusetts, was one of six seniors chosen to direct their own scripts in the capstone class. Her film, “To Dust All Return,” is set in Colonial New England and tells the story of a young girl who’s living alone and is accused of witchcraft by a powerful man.
“It explores the blurred lines between good and evil and the length someone will go to make things ‘right’ again,” said Botelho. “I wanted to make this film to showcase a realistic, strong female character. History is filled with incredible women who have outwitted themselves out of situations where they were stripped of power.”
Senior Anthony Delasanta’s short is a “dark fantasy” about a Black boy, Nat, who gains the power to fly. Delasanta used Blender, a free, open-source, 3D creation platform, to create the film’s environment, which resembles a post-industrial dying world.
“The environment is the whole story of the film. It transports the audience to a different world,” said Delasanta, of Newport. “I wanted to make this film because I wanted to push myself creatively and learn to use Blender.”
For Hetu, his film, “Love Without Loss,” a story of an up-and-coming director who loses the people he cares for in his pursuit of fame, was more a test of his perseverance.
Hetu planned to make the film in spring 2020, but the project was canceled because of the pandemic. Last fall, he was able to shoot one scene as a “proof of concept,” he said. But when he started to reassemble the cast to film this spring, he learned both of his leading actors were unavailable.
“For a long time, I was unsure if I would ever make this movie,” he said. “But people were so moved by the story I just kept pushing myself to make it. Basically, everything making this movie has been a wave of emotions of euphoria, depression, and overcoming adversity.”
For all the filmmakers, part of the adversity was dealing with the pandemic, including having cast and crew tested for the virus, limiting the number of actors and crew on set, wearing face shields and masks, and reducing the number of students working on each film. That meant students doubled and tripled up on the jobs it took to make a film.
To keep her three actors and 15 crew safe during filming, Botelho and her associate producer, Ashley Derosier, wrote a COVID-19 safety document outlining precautions, including testing and social distancing, mask wearing, and limiting who could touch what.
“Filmmaking is a ton of work and can be really nerve wracking,” said Botelho, the 2021 Film/Media Excellence Award recipient. “Adding a pandemic into the mix doubled the amount of work and nerves. I had to put my fears aside that the government would enforce another lockdown or someone essential would test positive days before filming weekend.”
Dealing with the pandemic added to the work Botelho had already put into her film. She did months of exacting research to get each detail right for a film set in the early-1700s, including replicating the period in costumes, props and hairstyles. The largest detail was the location, she said. She settled on the Aptucxet Trading Post in Bourne, Massachusetts, a replica of a 1600s Pilgrim structure with furniture and a large fireplace ideal for the story.
Hammond, who this semester was named the Film/Media Riglietti Award recipient, had her hand in several productions.
For “Love Without Loss,” she transformed the Harrington School’s broadcast studio into a setting for a late-night talk show and the Student Senate chambers into a Hollywood studio’s boardroom. On senior Kayla Michaud’s film, “Painted by Alice,” Hammond created a set of projection artwork and acrylic paints in the painting studio in the Fine Arts Center, including doing all the artwork herself.
To acknowledge the film department’s family-like atmosphere, Hammond planted “easter eggs” to reference other students’ work, including using a painting from Michaud’s film in an office setting for “Love Without Loss.”
“Working with multiple directors was an exciting experience mostly because the film department is a close-knit family, now more than ever during the pandemic,” she said. “The pandemic caused roadblocks for every department, and the film department was no different. Last semester, my own film was put on hold because of three COVID scares. But after a fall semester that felt like dust settling from an earthquake, we’d all properly learned how to roll with the punches by spring.”