Film Festival Showcases Stage Talents

By Shannon Thomason

sp2010_filmstripOn this night, the play wasn’t the thing. In January, the UAB Department of Theatre traded stage for screen, debuting its first student film festival before a packed house at Hulsey Hall. The event was designed to give theatre students a new outlet for their talents, but it grew to include entries from across campus and the local community, with submissions ranging from tearjerkers to commercials to zombie flicks to movie trailer-style previews of plays from Theatre UAB’s 2010 season.

“The students, their imaginations are just so fertile—it blows your mind where this stuff comes from,” says festival director Ron Hubbard, Ph.D., an associate professor in the theatre department.

University theatre departments have traditionally shied away from film work because of a lack of expertise and equipment, says Hubbard. But neither barrier applies at UAB, where Hubbard teaches a beginning filmmaking course in the theatre department, in addition to stage combat and actor movement classes. Hubbard credits department chair Will York with providing UAB theatre students access to the essential tools of the trade: three complete filming set-ups, including cameras, microphones, booms, tripods, lights, and headphones.

Once students step away from the footlights and into the eye of the camera, they have a lot to learn, Hubbard notes. “Film acting and stage acting are almost exactly opposite. The voice is different, the movement is different, the approach is different.” Despite these challenges, university film and theatre departments are now starting to combine around the country, Hubbard says; at UAB, faculty in theatre and communication studies are teaming up with projects such as this year’s festival that offer students new opportunities to learn.

The theatre-film connections formed at the festival are already paying dividends for role-hungry acting students at UAB. Alumna Alana Jordan, who directed the festival’s winning film, is a partner in the Birmingham-based Next Level Productions. She cast multiple theatre majors in her entry, “Sane,” the tale of a student who has herself committed to a mental institution for a class project, then can’t get out. She says she was amazed at the quality of their performances. “Now, whenever we cast one of our new films, the theatre department is our go-to place.”