The world’s largest student film festival, Campus MovieFest (CMF) began only eight years ago when four students at Emory University provided their peers with everything they needed—including camcorders and Apple laptops—to make a movie in one week. Since then, more than 200,000 students from around the globe have had the opportunity to tell their stories on the big screen, receiving all the necessary equipment and training for free, thanks to corporate partners and schools.
During this year’s CMF tour, 75,000 student moviemakers will participate in more than 50 events, earn $400,000 in prizes and have the unique chance to see their movie debuts on the big screen at such illustrious locations as Lincoln Center and Atlanta Symphony Hall. The events will culminate June 12 at the CMF International Grand Finale at Paramount Studios.
MM recently spoke with co-founder David Roemer about this exciting event for student moviemakers around the world.
Kyle Rupprecht (MM): How did Campus MovieFest initially get started?
David Roemer (DR): Four of us were students at Emory University in Atlanta in 2001 and wondered what would happen if we provided the tools and training for our fellow students to make short movies in a week. We begged for, borrowed and stole Apple laptops and cameras, didn’t sleep for a year and fortunately had a few administrators who trusted us. We were blown away when 1,500 students walked down the red carpet to see their short stories on the big screen.
The next year we brought the event to Georgia Tech, and the year following we gave it a shot at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, where I was a graduate student. We saw similar stellar results, with the president of the university exclaiming, “It was a whole lot better than graduation,” and we were convinced to drop our other plans and start to passionately share Campus MovieFest around the globe. Ever since, we have lost most of our friends and still haven’t slept, but are loving this incredible opportunity to see such exhilarating creativity, talent and spirit around the world.
MM: How does MovieFest differ from the vast number of other student film festivals?
DR: As the world’s largest student film festival, we’re proud to be the only event of this magnitude that provides every participating team—more than 250,000 students so far—with an Apple laptop, Panasonic HD camcorder and training to create short movies in a week. Importantly, this is all free for students. That lets any student at a participating school tell their story on the big screen, even if they’ve never previously made a movie or have the necessary tools. We’re excited to bring CMF to over 65 schools already, including top film schools as well as dozens of schools that don’t even have film programs.
We’ve awarded more than $2 million in prizes and held unforgettable grand finales at venues such as Lincoln Center and Paramount Studios, giving students a unique opportunity to see their work. We also showcase our students’ movies on millions of AT&T phones, in-flight on Virgin America and at the Short Film Corner at the Cannes Film Festival. CMF offers special categories such as our Social Justice category, providing winning students with $20,000 cash grants to make a difference in the fight against domestic poverty. And we help connect our participants with industry luminaries to help propel their careers and dreams, through workshops (including Catherine Hardwicke), interviews (including Sir Sean Connery and Christopher McQuarrie), judging panels (including Shane Black, Amy Ryan, Rip Torn, Mo Rocca and many more), pitch meetings and more opportunities. We work with exceptional partners—including AT&T, Apple, Panasonic and Virgin America—to make all this possible.
Oh yeah, and we have a bus we got on eBay! I don’t think—and certainly hope for their sake—that any other student film festival has done that.
MM: The fest is notable for inviting local musicians to perform and whose songs students have permission to use in their movie soundtracks. How did this unique opportunity come about?
DR: We’d like to think that we were trying to give independent musicians a chance to gain exposure among masses of college students. But early on, we just didn’t want to get sued! The students were using music from The Beatles and U2 in their movies, which wasn’t going to last too long. So we invited local musicians to submit tracks that we could provide to the students for their soundtracks, and we were inundated by artists excited about having tens of thousands of students hear their music and then feature the songs in movies seen by millions. Students can now choose from more than 3,000 tracks of music, or create their own soundtracks, so it’s worked out extremely well for all involved.
Last year, we also launched Campus MusicFest, letting us do for music what we’ve done for movies: Running a search for the best of the next generation of student musicians. The student bands compete online and at historic local venues such as the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco or Gibson showrooms nationwide, with the winners earning a chance to play at our International Grand Finale in L.A. and getting exposure as AT&T ringtones and more. Of course the Campus MovieFest participants can showcase the Campus MusicFest songs in their movies.
MM: How does Campus MovieFest most benefit student moviemakers?
DR: CMF is an event for the students by the students and customized at each campus, with a waiting list of schools wanting to participate. These schools are used to bringing in bands or comedians, and with CMF we get to showcase the creativity and talent of their own students. CMF inspires teamwork, school spirit and the use of video and music in classes and student groups. In terms of the individual students, they mostly love the chance to tell their stories on the big screen and have a lot of fun. Some students, of course, greatly appreciate the prizes and exposure opportunities, as well as the chance to compete against top student moviemakers. By providing students with the latest technology, we can also help them stay on the leading edge of the industry. And we love helping our students get their foot in the door in Hollywood or wherever their dreams may take them.
MM: How do you see the fest changing over time? Ultimately, what do you hope the reputation of Campus MovieFest will be?
DR: We’re finding CMF to be in a unique position to connect students with their future and connect the world with the future. With more and more ties into Hollywood and awesome exposure opportunities, we’re thrilled to authentically engage the next generation of content creators and industry leaders looking for these individuals and teams. This year alone has seen tremendous growth, thanks in large part to our board of advisors led by Richard Arlook, Jon Landau, Mitchell Leib and many other generous supporters.
We hope CMF grows to reach anyone with a story to tell. We see CMF continuing to work with many more schools, more cities and more countries, as well as branching out into more creative pursuits. We’ve also started a Distinguished Filmmaker Program, pairing top student filmmakers with companies and nonprofits looking for high-quality, lower-cost, authentic content. We’ll always be the event started by four students who should’ve been going to class instead, ensuring that we always remember we’re here to give students unforgettable experiences thanks to our premier partners.
MM: Anything else to add?
DR: We’re extremely excited about our CMF International Grand Finale in L.A. the weekend of June 11 – 13. The best of our best participants will head to Hollywood for a chance to see their short movies at Paramount Studios, while hearing from exceptional special presenters planned to include Catherine Hardwicke, Channing Tatum, Christian Slater, Ian McShane and many more. Check out www.campusmoviefest.com after the June 12 International Grand Finale to see this year’s winning short movies, and stay tuned for much more to come. We’re also always glad to hear from anyone interested in joining our journey—new schools, new partners and industry leaders.