Boston College’s Hidden Film Scene Although it's not well-known for its film department, beneath the surface, BC boasts a community of talented filmmakers.

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he Boston Student Film Festival seeks to bring together student filmmakers from around the Boston area to showcase their short films. Noah Harper and Brigitte Gong, the producer and marketing director of the Boston Student Film Festival, respectively, described it as an inclusive event that welcomes new voices, stories, and perspectives from many first-time filmmakers. 

“We had this astounding space epic called Starman last year about this astronaut-robot-alien-person that lives in Boston. … It was like a blockbuster in 10 minutes,” Harper said, describing one student’s submission to the film festival. Students from 12 institutions of higher education in the Boston area submitted a total of 29 films.

None were from Boston College.

Despite the lack of representation from BC at the festival, there is a community of students on campus who are dedicated to film. As of 2018, BC had 37 film majors and 45 minors, and the school boasts two clubs devoted to film: Hollywood Eagles and the Film Society of Boston College. 

Nevertheless, when people think of Boston College, film is rarely what comes to mind, said film major Meghan Schlageter, MCAS ’22.

“When I tell people outside of BC—or even in BC—‘I’m a film major,’ a lot of people initially think, ‘Why aren’t you at BU?, or someplace still in Boston that maybe has a more known film program?’” she said.

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C film professor Robert Heim, who also teaches workshops at Boston University, has insight into how BC’s film department compares with another, more well-known film program. While BU specializes more in the fields of digital media and visual space—the nitty gritty of how to create compelling visuals—BC prepares students for more traditional career paths in the industry, he said.

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nd yet, while BC’s film department helps students get started in traditional careers in the industry and clubs such as Hollywood Eagles help students get valuable production experience, Schlageter said that this doesn’t always translate into peoples’ perception of the film scene at BC. 

Schlageter is president of Hollywood Eagles, a club dedicated to bringing BC students’ stories and creative ideas to the screen as short films. While its members have many ambitions, she said, they face some major hurdles that make it difficult to realize these creative goals. 

One obstacle, Schlageter said, is that it is difficult for students to set aside time from their busy lives to pursue creative projects not necessarily required by their academic schedules. While she said that the diverse range of liberal arts classes at BC can often lend nuanced, rich influences to short films, she acknowledged that there are also some pitfalls that come with this rigorous curriculum.

“One of the downsides, I think, of being at a liberal arts [school] is … that a lot of people have a lot of time commitments, and if [film] isn’t necessarily their major or what they want to dedicate their life to, it can be hard to take ‘x’ amount of hours out of your week to dedicate to filming a project that is just a side passion for you,” Schlageter said. 

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n addition to the time crunch created by busy academic schedules, Schlageter said that another challenge the Hollywood Eagles face is securing actors to perform in their short films in the face of numerous other acting opportunities on campus. While the club does have theatre majors, many of them are committed to performing in school plays and musicals. It is difficult for them to find time in between classwork and theatre commitments to help other student writers and directors bring their film ideas to life. 

“The first day of every class I teach, I tell them the best camera is the one you have with you. ... I also tell them it’s not the shiny hammer that makes the better carpenter.”

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ithout access to experienced actors and actresses, the club members are often forced to work with what they have at their disposal. And while it is a positive that many club members are willing to act, the composition of the club sometimes dictates the storylines. 

“And so sort of to cater towards both of these realities—having it hard to get people outside of the club to act in [short films] and having a lot of [club members] be males—now our script follows a kid on a male soccer team with a lot of his male friends,” she said. “It sort of steers the projects we do in terms of access to actors and what we have.”

Hollywood Eagles now has more female members than in years past, and Schlageter is proud of the hard work and dedication she showed to become president in her sophomore year. But the club still has a long way to go, Schlageter said, in terms of getting women into administrative roles, calling the shots rather than just being on the performance side. Schlageter touched on how some of the same problems facing Hollywood Eagles are also affecting the wider industry. 

“It’s actually relevant now because there’s a whole scandal—because the Academy Award nominations just came out, and no female directors were nominated,” Schlageter said. “That’s causing a whole scene just in the broader aspect of film.”

One of the widely perceived snubs in the Best Director category was of Lulu Wang, whose film The Farewell was released to critical acclaim for its humorous yet poignant portrayal of a Chinese-American family reckoning with the terminal illness of its matriarch. Wang is a BC alumna, who graduated in 2005 with a bachelor of arts in creative writing. 

In addition to the struggle to find actors, the film scene also faces trouble with securing the use of equipment. Schlageter said that another way BC could improve its filmmaking scene and better help students would be allowing better access to equipment and fostering a mutual respect and trust between students and professors. She said that BC has a lot of high-quality equipment but sometimes restricts when and where students can use it. 

“[For] me personally and a group that I was working with in a cinematography class, we wanted to use one of these really nice cameras, but we ended up having to return it because we weren’t allowed to use it outside of the classroom,” Schlageter said.

Heim said that a way BC could help its student filmmakers is by listening to what equipment they need to complete their projects.

In his classes, Heim teaches the technical skills that are vital for any student on campus looking to explore filmmaking, building the foundation for groups such as Hollywood Eagles to reach their goals. While he said that nice equipment can help, he noted that the skill of the filmmaker is the most important. 

“I tell [students] that every camera basically has the same functions: They all have a record button, they all have a lens, and they all have ways to control the light going into it,” Heim said. “The first day of every class I teach, I tell them the best camera is the one you have with you. … I also tell them it’s not the shiny hammer that makes the better carpenter.”

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chlageter also noted that BC devoting more space for film production and maybe even starting a film festival would help attract attention to the student filmmaking scene on campus. 

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arper touched on what he gleaned from putting on such an event last year, as producer of the Boston Student Film Festival.

“It was a really great opportunity to see how creative and innovative all the students are in the area,” Harper said. “There are obviously some ones that didn’t have the best production values or writing, and they were fun to see too. I was really shocked by the innovation and the ingenuity of storytelling.”

Schlageter is ultimately optimistic about the future and how the film scene can continue to grow at BC through either organized ventures or students just creating by themselves. Previously,  she had been unaware that the Boston Student Festival even existed, she said.

“Now that this has been brought to my attention, it’s something that we can even tell people— like, ‘If you’re not making a film through us, shoot something with your friends and submit it. There’s no harm in that you might not get accepted. You might just do it for fun. See what happens.’”

Featured Images by Jess Rivilis / Heights Editor

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