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February 16, 2018

A film festival 40 years in the making kicks off Monday

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. — As one of the nation’s oldest student-run film festivals prepares to celebrate four decades, Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Big Muddy Film Festival has not only brought the best independent national and international films and filmmakers to the region. It has also been a tale of dedication. 

Founded “on a principle of open access to cinema art,” the festival “shines a strong spotlight” on the university – one “showcasing our dedication to media arts education and to arts in the community,” Deborah Tudor, interim dean of the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts, said. 

Free showcases for 73 films on campus and around Carbondale

This year's festival features 73 competitive and non-competitive films in four categories: animation, documentary, experimental and narrative. 

There will also be individual juror workshops. Two of the three jurors, award-winning filmmakers Tom Ludwig and Ben Kalina, are SIU cinema and photography alumni. 

Admission is free and open to the public for all festival events, Tudor said, to keep with the spirit of open access to cinema art. A complete list of times, dates and venues is available on the Big Muddy Film Festival’s website. Events will be held both on the SIU campus and throughout Carbondale. 

Special events include opening reception, birthday celebration

Several special events will take place throughout the week:

  • Opening reception: 6 to 8 p.m., Feb. 19, in Morris Library’s Guyon Auditorium.
  • Festival’s 40th birthday party: 6 to 9 p.m., Feb. 24, also in Guyon Auditorium.
  • John Michaels Award Showcase: 2 p.m. Feb. 25, at the Carbondale Public Library.
  • ‘Best of the Fest Showcase’: 5 p.m., Feb. 25, at the Longbranch Café & Bakery. 

Festival is a central piece of media education at SIU

Because students run the festival, the Big Muddy Film Festival provides a “unique opportunity … and it is one of the events that sets our campus apart from other universities,” Tudor said. “This gives our students the opportunity to learn curating, ad contracts, public relations, and all aspects of organizing an international film festival.” 

The jurors, while on campus, host workshops and provide open critiques of student work, “giving students a chance to interact with media professionals and to connect their work here with possible career paths,” Tudor said. 

There are about 17 students actively involved with the festival and Hassan Pitts, the college’s technology coordinator and festival director, anticipates another 15 students will also volunteer during the week. 

Building on their predecessors’ work

Pitts, who has been festival director for three years, is excited for this year’s event. 

“During my involvement I have seen the students build upon the work that has been laid out in the years before,” he said. “I have seen the group as a whole mature and grow to a point where I think their energies and efforts are meeting the interest and energies of the community to produce a stellar event. 

“By the time we hit our "Birthday Celebration" on Saturday at Guyon Auditorium, I anticipate a remarkable collision of nostalgia for the 40 years behind us, but also an anticipation for what the university, Southern Illinois and the Big Muddy Film Festival can do next,” Pitts said.