A camera, microphone and dreams of Hollywood

Campus Movie Fest winners celebrate during their award ceremony last week. Photo by Devy Perkins | The Signal

Armed with a camera, microphones and laptop, 345 Georgia State students took to the city’s streets to make a movie.

Campus Movie Fest (CMF) is the world’s largest student film festival, according to its website, the brainchild of four Emory University students back in 2001 that has grown to reach over one million students and partners with Panasonic, Disney and other major companies. 

The idea is simple: CMF visits universities around the country and provides students with a Panasonic camera, microphones and an Apple computer. The students are given one week to create a film of fewer than five minutes. 

Janae Belcher, spotlight’s cinema and gaming chair, helped orchestrate the event and served as CMF’s “ear to Georgia State.” 

When the deadline arrived, Belcher said, films were judged by an anonymous panel, which consisted of CMF employees and a few Georgia State staff. The short films were scored on a point system based on content, technical excellence and the overall quality. 

From there, only 16 of 73 submitted films were chosen for viewing on premiere night. 

Storylines ranged from comedies, fantasy and one film featured a rap song about racial inequality and police brutality. 

“Channel 6 News” elicited eruptions of laughter from the audience. The film depicts a news anchor and his eccentric guest. The program gets derailed by UFO sightings, and comic chaos ensues from there. 

This hilariously outlandish storyline was written and edited by seniors Max Kantor and Kai Stephenson. The two have been involved with CMF for the past three years. They met in class, and Kantor later approached Stephenson with the idea of a character who is romantically involved with his verbally abusive Amazon Alexa. 

“Lexi: A Love Story” was their first submitted film. The next year, they created “Three Wise Men,” which depicted two of the wise men who accidentally both brought myrrh to baby Jesus.

After three years of working together, the two have established a system.

Kantor brainstorms the plot and writes the script. Kantor spent last semester in a program with Second City, a famous comedy troupe in Chicago. He uses these skills to “bring the craziness and silliness to the characters and the movies we make.” 

Stephenson enjoys the production work, focusing on the technical aspects of filming, such as lighting, shooting and editing. He added that his job is to translate the story visually. 

This year, the group began shooting on a Saturday, and the film was due the following Tuesday. Stephenson and Kantor agree that this year’s film is their favorite. 

“Kai and I can agree [this year] was definitely the biggest response we’ve gotten from any of our CMF premieres,” Kantor said. “To see and hear people laughing at the content you produced, there’s no better feeling.” 

This self-described “dynamic duo” has been awarded Georgia State CMF’s Jury Awards each year they’ve entered. This year, they also won Best Editing and Stephenson took home the award for Best Actor. 

At each university, the panel selects four films for the Jury Award, and all participants are invited to the national Terminus Film Festival the following summer. 

Based in Hollywood this year, students have the opportunity to network, attend seminars and compete for a chance to attend the Cannes Film Festival in France. 

“For the past two years, Terminus was actually held in Atlanta,” Stephenson said. “So, it was really a cool last round … because we’re seniors, so this is our last year participating in CMF. To be able to have our last film actually presented at a national film fest in Hollywood, California, that’s just the best thing that could’ve happened.” 

Freshman Matthew Simpson also took home the Jury Award with his film “Boyfriend.” His film is about a student becoming increasingly nervous as someone follows him around campus. As the character tries to evade his stalker, he calls a girl to say they should break things off, because her boyfriend’s chasing him. 

The audience laughed at this unexpected turn of events and exclaimed as the vengeful boyfriend follows the character to the top of a parking deck. 

Simpson made short films with his friends in high school, but the CMF premiere night was the first time he’s seen an audience react to his work. 

“I loved every second of it because it’s really nice to see people react to your work, even if it’s not entirely how you’d expect it,” Simpson said. “I remember people laughed at one point that I didn’t expect people to laugh … but I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that is pretty funny.’” 

Simpson arrived at the premiere apprehensive because filmmakers are unaware if their film was selected for showing. 

His realistic goal was to make it within the top 16, but Simpson was “surprised and grateful” when his film was chosen for the Jury Award, among the highest honors. 

“I was incredibly surprised,” Simpson said. “When I was watching the other movies during the top 16, I’m like, ‘Man, these are really good.’ [Winning] was unbelievable; it was one of those movie moments, really.” 

Simpson hopes the Terminus Film Festival will help jumpstart his dream of being a filmmaker. 

“On the Other Side”’ is another jury winner. The film features members from Atlanta’s homeless population. The documentary-style short shows people discussing how long they’ve been without homes and where they’d sleep around the city on a cold night. 

One man emphatically points his finger to the camera, saying, “Stop treating the homeless like we aren’t people. We aren’t animals. We’re people.” 

The fourth winner of the Jury Award was “$ix Figures Under,” about a man faking his death for the insurance money, only to wind up accidentally buried alive.  

Stephenson and Kanton look back on their CMF years fondly and have advice for future Georgia State participants.

“Definitely take pride in your film no matter how far it goes, [no matter] if it wins awards [or] if it doesn’t,” Stephenson said. “Making a movie at any length, with any amount of equipment, is very hard, and just be able to take in the moment and just be proud of what you do.”

Like Stephenson, Kanton encourages future filmmakers to take pride in their hard work and final product.

“Don’t make [art] for other people because when you make it for other people, you are always going to let somebody down; you’re going to feel let down, and you’ll never be satisfied,” Kanton said. “But if you only make your own art, then you’re never going to be disappointed because you’re always going to be happy with what you do. So, I would encourage the future CMF filmmakers to make your movie for you.”