Chicago Shorts Fest aimed at Loop college students

A few years ago, Shelley LaMantia, Dean of Professional Arts at business-oriented Robert Morris University, had the idea of bringing together students who attend other Loop colleges and are housed in the Loop, to express their creativity through film.

She discussed it with RMU Chancellor Michael Viollt, who liked it and said the school should sponsor a short film festival. This was quite a departure for RMU since its visual media instruction consists of two video classes that are part of the graphic design curriculum.

The festival made sense, however, since the Loop is at the heart of the largest “college town” in Illinois, where more than 58,000 students attend 22 colleges and universities downtown.

So coming up Wednesday, April 27 is Robert Morris’ 3rd Annual Chicago Shorts Festival at the Gene Siskel Film Center, from 5 to 9 p.m., free and open to all – students and the general public.

The first Shorts Festival in 2014 didn’t exactly turn out the way LaMantia had envisioned it. The low number of entries was disappointing. The collaboration she had expected to develop among students didn’t catch fire and local students give the festival a pass.

RMU's Shelley LaMantiaBut elsewhere in the US and the world, college kids recognized the Short Film Festival as a great opportunity for displaying creativity apart from one’s career track and a chance to win big cash prizes.

“This year, we’ve received about a hundred entries, double from the year before,” says LaMantia, “so we’re catching on.”

Still, local college submissions were still comparatively light, except for Columbia College, DePaul and the Moody Bible Institute, but students throughout the US — including Alaska — and from Spain, the Czech Republic, Iran and Israel, were in the mix.

The festival’s judging criteria wasn’t, umm, like the criteria that film contestants are accustomed to, such as points earned for writing, direction, cinematography, et al.

Rather, Originality and Creativity, Pacing and Structure, Cinematography, Entertainment Value, Overall Production Quality and/or Script guided the three judges —LA-based Dawn Westlake, Ron de Cana Productions, producer Josh Hester of The Storyteller Studios in Springfield and Blake Goble, Consequence of Sound, Chicago.

The top winner in each of the five categories will take home $1,000 in cash, generously donated by Robert Morris University, Boston Bureau Productions and Cinespace Studios.

Second and third runners-up receive LaCie hard drives.

LaMantia, a graphic designer by profession, is optimistic about the audience for Wednesday’s screening and looking forward to seeing “students from different schools in the Loop come together,” she says, adding, “we’re getting there.”