Pros and Cannes

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A team of Jacksonville University film students has been invited to Campus MovieFest’s film festival in Cannes, despite having been disqualified from a Feb. 2 campus film competition.

Jacksonville University film students Steven Shotola, a junior, and David Howard, an alumnus who returned to JU in January for an independent study within the film department, were disqualified this spring from the competition due to allegations that they had hired professionals to assist with the production of their short film, “Duality.”

Campus MovieFest is a student film competition that began at Emory University and is now held annually on college campuses across the country. According to CMF rules, students are provided the equipment to produce, over the course of one week a, five-minute feature entirely on their own. Participants, other than actors, must be current students, faculty or staff.

According to Jessica Reynoso, media and communications spokeswoman for Campus MovieFest, “Duality” did not win an award at the JU CMF event and will not continue on to CMF Hollywood.

“After the accusations against ‘Duality’ had been fully investigated and confirmed,” Reynoso said, “it was decided that the film is not eligible to continue in the Campus MovieFest competition.”

The film was ultimately screened, however, because it had already been included in the presentation package along with the other film entries. This screening had no bearing on the film’s eligibility for Cannes.

“The filmmaker[s] chose to submit ‘Duality’ to CMF365, an online only category open to any college student anywhere that does not have the same restrictions as the traditional CMF program,” said Reynosa.

Fellow film students, speaking on the condition of anonymity, say that Shotola and Howard violated CMF rules in the production of their film. According to the sources, a cinematographer external to the university, Peter Stahl, and a freelance make-up artist, Amber Burch, assisted with Shotola and Howard’s production process. The Navigator was unable to reach Stahl for comment, and Burch did not respond to requests to be interviewed.

CMF informed Shotola of the allegations the evening of the award presentations. He and Howard were permitted to dispute the charges and sent in on-set photos as proof of their role in producing the movie. The students say that Stahl was just on set to observe and ensure the safety of his $4,000 equipment.

“The only thing we paid for was pizza for the crew,” said Shotola. “All of the equipment was borrowed.”

Still, Carolina Conte, a JU assistant professor of film studies, is unhappy that a film disqualified for rules violations will nevertheless be associated with the school’s film program.

“According to my morals, it’s wrong,” said Conte. “With a university we should have high standards for morals and honesty. Many of my other students are highly upset.”

The allegations now appear moot as “Duality” is slated to be screened at Cannes, and its producers have been busy raising funds for travel and expenses.

According to Bill Hill, dean of the college of fine arts, Conte did not come to him to protest the student film’s selection or potential support for Shotola and Howard.

“I have had no conversation with her regarding this matter,” said Hill via email. “I did have a meeting with Steve Shotola and David Howard at their request. They requested support from the [College of Fine Arts] to assist them in their travel. After hearing the details of the situation, specifically that if they did not attend in person their film would not be screened, I did not provide any financial support.”

“At this point we were literally begging for funding,” Howard said.

The Jacksonville University Student Alliance, or JUSA, is the university’s student government organization.

“Steven and David requested funding from JUSA, but no decision has been made whether or not we should fund them. Allegations were not a factor,” said Brandon Krouppa, JUSA president.

From this point it is unclear exactly when Shotola and Howard approached the university administration. What is clear is that professor Conte’s request that the duo not use the CFA’s or the film department’s name in association with the promotion of their film resurfaced on Feb. 28 in an email provided to the Navigator by Dr. Derek Hall, vice president of external affairs and marketing. The email references an earlier meeting between Howard and Hall.

“I forgot to mention during my meeting with Dr. Hall but Carolina Conte has requested that Steve and I and our film not be associated with the JU film program…” Howard said, “…we are respecting her decision….”

“It is ok with her if we are associated with JU as a whole, but would like for us not to say we are representing the film program.”

According to Conte, Howard and Shotola received permission from Hall and Lois Becker, senior vice president of academic affairs, to use the name of the university in promotion of their film. Conte said that she asked Hall not to grant such permission, but that she respected the decision of the administrators.

Becker, when contacted for an interview, declined to comment other than to say that she had been on the panel of judges for the CMF competition. In response to a clarification email asking if she’d met with anyone to discuss support or financing for Shotola and Howard, Becker said that she had no knowledge of any such meeting ever taking place.

In another email obtained by the Navigator, dated April 12, and sent from Howard to Conte, Howard said that his mother Nancy Howard, an administrative assistant who works in the same building as the administrators, met with Lois Becker and Derek Hall and obtained support from the school and the use of the university’s name and resources to promote their film.

Hall too denied knowledge of any such meeting when interviewed.

According to Hall, Howard and Shotola requested financial support and promotional backing from university president Dr. Kerry Romesburg. Romeseburg deferred to Dr. Hall who is in charge of financial matters.

Hall met with the students and determined that it was in the interest of the university to support both Shotola and Howard’s team and another team invited to the CMF festival in Cannes. Each team was granted $500 for expenses and instructed that receipts for their expenditures would be required. A press release was issued announcing both films and their successes.

When notified via email that the Navigator was in possession of correspondence from David Howard that seemed contradictory to both Dr. Becker and Dr. Hall’s denials of any meeting, Hall responded with a statement.

“After I made the offer to the two teams, Dr. Becker and Nancy Howard came to see me. The whole conversation was related to Nancy’s concern that her son was being treated unfairly related to the accusations. I recounted with them the visit with David, the phone call with Prof. Conte and my decision to offer each team assistance. I told them that I did not think David was slandered in any way,” said Hall.

“The reason I did not mention this before and why Dr. Becker was confused with [your newspaper’s] question about a meeting…was that you asked us both about a meeting concerning university support and funding offer. That meeting never happened,” Hall reiterated.

“The decision to offer support is solely mine after consultation with the CFO,” said Hall.

Shotola and Howard had not yet exhausted all of their resources. The students continued to look for additional funding and continued, with permission granted, to associate their film with the JU name and Cannes.

On March 19, CBS WTEV47 Channel 4 Action News broadcasted a feature story on Howard, a staff-member of the news station at the time of the airing, and the fil “Duality”.

The segment featured Howard being interviewed, stating that he and Shotola entered the Cannes Film Festival rather than CMF365, the competition they actually did enter, and used the university’s name.

At the end of the segment, and on the channel’s website where an accompanying article is posted, ways to contribute financially to the duo’s travel fund were outlined. The total amount Howard claimed needed to be raised was $6,200, and at the time of the broadcast they were only $2,000 short of that mark.

Shotola and Howard were in fact able to raise the remaining $2,000, and they are going ahead with their plans to attend the CMF film festival in Cannes.

“We worked really hard on our movie, and I never wanted anyone to be harmed or get put down due to our film or the controversy surrounding it,” said Shotola in a prepared statement. “We have amazing students and professors at this school. I have nothing but respect and pride in all of my school and the people that spend their days here.”

Conte remains disappointed by the events that surrounded this year’s CMF and has decided that rather than invite CMF back next year, JU should have its own contest.

“I would like to create [our own] film festival rather than have to rely on CMF due to [the ability for] their standards to be circumvented.”

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