Black Warrior Film Festival showcases student filmmakers

Savannah Ichikawa, Contributing Writer

Whether it’s because the characters are easy to connect to or because people need entertainment for a brief amount of time, filmmakers create works of art that impact audiences everywhere. On the University’s campus and within Tuscaloosa communities, students are directing films that captivate crowds.

The University’s creative-media courses give students a unique creative outlet and encourage them to direct and create their own movies or short films. 

Black Warrior Film Festival, the University’s own national film festival, gives student filmmakers the ability to submit their work and get selected to be featured on Alabama’s campus for audiences to enjoy. 

Established in 2013, the festival is an annual event that seeks to showcase student talent from the South and across the nation by hosting communitywide screenings, workshops and featured guests. 

The festival’s mission explains the importance of generating interest in students’ work to better cultivate the talents of undergraduate and graduate filmmakers. The festival’s vision statement says its organizers “hope the festival experience represents the evolving, creative process of filmmaking year after year.”  

Catherine Peinhardt, a UA alumna who majored in creative media, is one of many students who submitted a piece to Black Warrior Film Festival.

Her project has won awards such as best overall film, best cinematography, best director, best editing and best lead actress through the JCM Directing Capstone Premiere and other festivals, like Tribeca. 

Peinhardt created, directed and edited “Proximity” beginning in July 2021. It premiered on Jan. 19. The movie follows a girl during the COVID-19 pandemic and depicts the effects that isolation has on mental health. 

“I thought it was a really cool way to symbolically show a manifestation for a need for connection,” Peinhardt said. 

Peinhardt wanted to explore the idea of creating a film that centered on a a lesbian romance without making the movie’s plot about the main character’s struggle with being LGBTQ.

Instead, “Proximity” shows the lead’s struggle with isolation and dissociative episodes throughout the pandemic, and eventually how they end up meeting someone that helps them in their struggle.

“Even though the story is kind of extreme, I feel like everyone has moments where they can relate to the film,” Peinhardt said, “I really wanted to make a film that everyone could relate to after we had all been so isolated.”

The film has won titles internationally, including seven Laurels and awards from the Paris International Film Festival, the Standalone Film Festival and Europe Film Festival. Because the season has just begun, Peinhardt is also hoping to get recognized domestically come March.

If she receives a grant, she already has ideas for her next film and hopes to start her own production group to support LGBTQ businesses in Tuscaloosa. 

Showcasing short films like Peinhardt’s and other independent projects provides students with the experience of being recognized for their work and gives them networking opportunities with industry professionals.

“I love seeing what other people at my level with my experience are doing,” said Kailey New, a senior majoring in creative media.

New started as a member of the Black Warrior Film Festival’s programming committee her sophomore year and has since worked her way up to becoming the director of the Black Warrior Film Institute.

The festival usually receives between 100 and 130 submissions, most of them from students outside of The University of Alabama. They have received short films from Florida State University, North Carolina School of Arts, Los Angeles and more.

“We’re definitely encouraging our younger students to submit their class projects,” New said. “Even if you don’t think it will get in, submit it because you never know.”

She explained how two programming directors, along with a committee of volunteers from the University, dedicate time each week to watch and rate films. From there, the films that score the highest in each category have the opportunity to be featured at the festival. 

Projects are critiqued on editing, cinematography and sound design and also receive an overall score. The highest scoring films from each category are selected to fill the festival’s one-hour blocks. 

Students can expect the chance to receive awards for things like having the highest scoring film of a certain category, best directing, best actor/actress, or best production design, among other aspects of their films. The audiences from each block will be able to vote for their favorite films.

Black Warrior Film Festival celebrates filmmakers while also enriching the campus and greater Tuscaloosa community through the art of filmmaking. All of the events are free and open to the public.

This year the Black Warrior Film Festival will take place on April 8-10 in the UA Student Center’s theater. There will be a Zoom panel of VIP guests on April 8, and in-person screenings of the films on April 9 and April 10.  

“The opportunity is out there. Don’t be afraid to just do it,” New said. “If you’re still not sure, just come to the festival. That way you can see for yourself what it’s like and know you can do it next year.”

Questions? Email the culture desk at [email protected]msonwhite.com.