Laura Vasquez, professor of media studies in the School of Communication at Northern Illinois University, says she started the Reality Bytes Independent Student Film Festival a little over a decade ago as a showcase for her students' work, as well as a chance for them to get some real-world experience.
"To learn what was the bar, what other people in college were producing, and how they could learn to tell stories that were engaing, that were well-produced, that were well-shot, and that had an audience."
Vasquez expanded that concept several years ago when started having her students not only produce the films, but help with the organization of the festival. This year, for example, her students had to help cull the 73 films submitted down to the 15 that actually are shown to the public.
"So we're always talking about, is this a good story, how does this film work, why does it work, is the shot structure relevent, what's happening in a film that we think an audience might like?"
Vasquez says while the festival was created for the students, it has picked up a following in the community. She says there are there a couple of reasons why someone might be interested in viewing the films on display at Reality Bytes. First, she says, if you want to know what young people are thinking, look at the media they're making. After all, she says, these are the future leaders of our country.
So this is an opportunity to see, how are they engaging with subjects, ideas, documentary issues?
The second reason, she says, is based purely on entertainment value. The films are she says, "delightful," and well-worth the experience.
"They may have a different way of telling a story than we're used to. Does that work? Is that fun? How does that engage us?"
Vasquez says the connection for her students between classroom and real world will be drawn further into focus at the Festival's awards ceremony, where NIU alumnus Robert Katz, the executive in charge of production for the Academy Award-winning film "Crash" and many other projects, will give a talk about his experience in Hollywood called "25 Years in the Wild, Wild West." Vasquez says it's a chance for students to see and hear, from someone who's been there, what it means to make your career out of a passion. And that's also part of the learning experience that is the Reality Bytes Film Festival.