For all budding documentarians:

The True/False Film Fest is heading into its sixth year of celebrating non-fiction film, and is seeking out groundbreaking documentaries from all over the globe.  We are particularly interested in films that walk the line between fact and fiction, commenting in some way on our world and on filmmaking itself.  On February 26 of 2009, Columbia, Missouri will transform itself into a Midwestern Shangri-La of independent film; between panels and parties, conversation and screenings, filmmakers and the town will come together and enjoy what is becoming one of the most talked-about film fests in the country.  If your film is accepted you will receive travel and lodging, a festival pass and an unparalleled experience.

Deadlines and Entry Fees:
Earlybird:  September 30 2008  Feature: $20  Short: $15
Regular:   November 15  2008   Feature: $25  Short $20
Late:    December 1 2008   Feature:  $30   Short: $25
*Submit on withoutabox.com and receive $5 off of your entry fee
Submission formats: DVD or VHS (NTSC, VHS, or SECAM)

Download a flyer here.

In a running feature on this blog, I’ll be profiling Middlebury alumni (both from the FMMC program and the college at large) who are doing interesting things in the real world and whose work deserves recognition. This first entry is on Ryan Bilsborrow-Koo, class of ’03.

Ryan graduated during the last major transition in Middlebury’s film program, as we became an independent program in 2002 as well as welcomed two new faculty members, Christian Keathley and Jason Mittell. I had Ryan in one class and have stayed in touch to see how he navigated the world of independent filmmaking. Ryan runs a blog called No Film School, chronicling how he’s trying to become a filmmaker without going to grad school – it’s definitely worth reading if you’re mulling post-Middlebury plans.

His day job is doing web design for the online music company Rhapsody, but his major accomplishment is becoming a pioneering award-winning online filmmaker. With partner Zachary Lieberman, Ryan has co-produced, directed, and written The West Side, an excellent serialized “urban western” (starring fellow Midd alum Damien Washington). They’ve currently released 4 of 12 episodes, and I think any film student will appreciate its elegant style, sense of genre play, and unified tone – personally, I love the aesthetic and the allusions to one of my & Ryan’s common favorites, The Wire. If you haven’t seen it, definitely check it out!

The West Side is a great testament as to what can be accomplished with no-budget filmmaking, and it broadens the possibilities of online video beyond the viral sensationalism of most YouTube shorts. This innovative focus on quality over quantity has resulted in a number of honors – the series recently won The 2008 Webby Award for Best Drama Series, and Ryan & Zack were profiled by Filmmaker Magazine as one of 25 New Faces of Independent Film. You can read more about Ryan and Zack’s approach to filmmaking and online distribution in a four part interview I conducted with them last year. I think their accomplishments point to new possibilities for aspiring media creators in the digital age – and speak to Ryan’s strong education in film at Middlebury, even with “no film school.”

The summer of 2008 has been a time of huge transitions for Film and Media Culture. First, the Program became officially a Department, a redesignation that acknowledges the growth and strength of FMMC since it became independent in 2002 – for students, the effect will not be noticeable, but it is a testament to your interest and support over the past years.

Much more noticeably, we have a new home! In May, the department moved into the Axinn Center (for the record, the full name is The Donald Everett Axinn ’51 Center for Literary and Cultural Studies at Starr Library!) along with the Program in American Studies, History Department, and English and American Literatures Department. This is particularly exciting as it means that all the FMMC faculty and facilities will be under one roof for the first time, as well as sharing space with other humanities departments rather than off on our own in Wright and Sunderland. In addition to the faculty and staff offices, there are 9 classrooms ranging in size, including a 20 Mac computer lab and a beautiful 65-seat screening room featuring 35mm, 16mm, and HD video – simply the nicest projection you’ll find in the area! The basement of Axinn is FMMC’s playground, with production facilities including a soundstage (complete with lighting grid and green screen), a dedicated animation lab, an equipment checkout room twice as big as we had in Sunderland, an audio booth, three editing rooms with 10 MacPro Tower workstations for post-production, a centralized high-speed XSAN server to hold video and audio data, and a lounge to help build community during those long editing sessions. We’re still equipping and configuring things, and I hope to post some pictures as rooms come together – if you’re on-campus in August, let me know and I’ll give you a tour of this new jewel at Middlebury.

To maximize use of these facilities, we’ve added some new faces to our department. Assistant Professor Hope Tucker has joined the faculty to lead our production curriculum – Prof. Tucker is a video artist specializing in non-fiction work. Some of you were able to see her presentation last winter, where she screened an excerpt from her film chronicling the cultural history of the lemonade stand in America, as well as a number of shorts in her Obituary Project, a series of videos offering memorials to people, places, and things that have passed away. She’ll be teaching Sight & Sound 2 and a Special Topics in Animation course this fall – hopefully many of you will have the opportunity to work with her soon.

As many of you know, Daniel Houghton has left Middlebury for the bright lights of New York City after two years doing an outstanding job as our Digital Media Intern. Although he’ll be missed, his role is in able hands with two new staff members. Ethan Murphy is our new Media Production Specialist, supervising the facilities in the Axinn basement, maintaining the equipment, overseeing student workers, providing support for students, and generally making sure the trains run on time. Ethan is a native Vermonter with a degree from UVM, but he’s spent recent years in Philadelphia, serving in a similar role at the University for the Arts. After working closely with Ethan for the past two months, I’m confident that we’re in very good hands – hopefully returning and new students will stop by Axinn 204 to meet Ethan. A more familiar face, Sam Morrill, is our new Intern – Sam graduated in ’08 with an English and American Literatures major, but took FMMC courses and was a staple in Sunderland. Sam will be overseeing the equipment room and working with Ethan to provide support to production courses and projects.

Finally, Professor Leger Grindon has completed his multiple tours of duty as FMMC Program Director, handing over the reigns to me as the new Department Chair. I want to thank him for many years serving in what I’m discovering is a less-than-glamorous job, and invite anyone to drop me an email or stop by my office in Axinn 208 to chat about the department. We have a lot of great things in store to highlight our expanded role at Middlebury this year, so stay tuned here for more updates!

-Jason Mittell

Brighter Planet, Middlebury’s own climate change company, is sponsoring a Climate Matters video contest – create a 30- or 60-second video that addresses climate change, and enter the contest for the chance to win some cash or video equipment. Check it out!

Greetings! This is the first post in the new blog for the Film & Media Culture department at Middlebury College. I’m Jason Mittell, Associate Professor and Chair of the department, and I’ll be running this blog along with Francisca Drexel, departmental coordinator, and some assistance from other faculty and students. A special thanks to Aaron Smith, who designed the banner and helped configure the site.

The purpose of this blog is to share information relevant to our majors, minors, prospective students, alumni, and the broader Middlebury community. We hope to share career information like internship opportunities, film festival information, and announcements about relevant campus events. Even more interesting for the FMMC community, I hope to share links & embedded videos for relevant works, whether it’s a student project, an alum’s award-winning video, or a faculty publication. If you find anything online – or want to promote your own project – send the link and information to Jason Mittell or Francisca Drexel and we’ll post it!

So explore the links on right, including some alumni blogs, and stay tuned via RSS feed or compulsive reloading for some news, updates, and featured projects from Middlebury’s FMMC department.