Fredonia students reap SUNYWide Film Festival honors

State University of New York at Fredonia students were in the spotlight at the SUNYWide Film Festival, earning a pair of top awards in the Animation category at what has become one of the top student film festivals in the Northeast.

Sarah Gaygen, who received a degree in Animation and Illustration in 2017, won Best Animation for “Kamunyak,” her senior capstone project. Mattea Guldy, a sophomore Animation and Illustration major, received Honorable Mention for “La Luz.”

“I was pleased that three of the seven animations officially selected for screening were from students in our A/I program. We have always made it into the fest, but it is becoming more competitive,” Associate Professor Jill Johnston said. Fredonia Animation and Film/Video students are always well represented at the festival, she added, and winning the top two Animation awards was a welcome surprise.

Ms. Gaygen’s 2D animation focuses on a lonely lioness that adopts an Oryx antelope. “They quickly developed a tight bond with one another, yet it’s not what you would consider a healthy relationship,” Gaygen explained. With the lioness always nearby, the baby antelope is unable to find a new mother, and she’s also unable to hunt.

“Kamunyak,” which means “the blessed one,” is based on a true story about a lioness in a Northern Kenya nature preserve that adopted five Oryx calves. Gaygen saw a documentary about the lioness in high school. In her video, Gaygen addressed one of the questions posed in the documentary: why did the lioness adopt the baby calves? She suggested that the lioness suffered a traumatic event, such as the loss of a cub, and sought the antelope to fill a void in her heart.

“When I screen this short, people would be aww-ing at the adorable moments, but by the end of the climax, which also happened in the real life story, there would be few dry eyes in the audience,” Gaygen said.

Gaygen worked on the production for a year, spending the one semester on pre-production and another on hand-drawn and digital animation. Everything was drawn on a computer using a graphic tablet, and every frame was drawn, she explained, so that meant roughly 4,000 frames of animation were drawn for the nearly five and a half minute film. She collaborated with School of Music Composition major Kristina Dejuri on the soundtrack.

“Kamunyak” was also screened at the Buffalo International Film Festival, where it took home a Gold Bison for Best Western New York Student Film.

Gaygen was thrilled just to have her film screened at the festival, let alone win first place. She is currently working on a new short and plans to seek a M.F.A. in film and animation at Rochester Institute of Technology.

From a simple animation exercise, Ms. Guldy created “La Luz,” a rotoscoped animation lauded by Ms. Johnston as ambitious and expressive, in less than four weeks for the Introduction to Animation course. She gained the idea for the film from her childhood and time spent in the woods.

“Since I grew up in a rural area I was always immersed in nature and surrounded by woods. I meant to display the serenity of nature and the adventure that can take place in being in nature. There’s no linear story, but I really enjoyed the idea that the light, la luz, is what makes nature look so beautiful,” Guldy explained.

For the rotoscoping process, Guldy took film and drew over the moving parts. She did a loose interpretation of the background and focused on the movement of the person in the film.

Having “La Luz” screened at the festival was a surreal experience for Guldy, who didn’t expect to win any sort of honor. She plans to enter it in several national festivals.

“I hope that people get a new appreciation for the woods and how light effects our perspective. I also hope it’s calming and serene and reminds people of good times in the woods,” she said.

The seven Animation films screened also included “One Inch Tall,” by Brittany Sambrook, a senior Animation and Illustration major. Her composited 2D animation was based on Shel Silverstein’s poem of the same title.

Fredonia students were overjoyed to be included in the festival, hosted Nov. 9 to11 at SUNY Buffalo State, and excited to attend the 1930s Hollywood style opening night gala, Johnston noted.

Among eight entries in the Experimental category was “Sunday Morning,” by junior Film/Video major Susan Kehl. Her film, an original cinematic mediation on the interactions between static objects in a natural setting, was produced for the Introduction to Film course.

The festival that Associate Professor Phil Hastings founded eight years ago to showcase the cinematic work of students and faculty throughout the SUNY system attracted more than 200 submissions from 23 campuses.

“Although this was a student film festival, the selection process has become more competitive, which mirrors the experience at the majority of international festivals,” said Johnston, a member of the SUNYWide pre-screening committee in 2016. “We encourage our students to apply to international competitions as well as attend them if possible. Networking at festivals/conventions is invaluable for their careers and something that is supported by the Visual Arts and New Media Department.”

For artists who work in time based media, festival official selection status is one of the major resume builders and methods of becoming noticed by the industry, Johnston said.

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