Illinifest 2019 to showcase student filmmaking


Photo Courtesy of Jaylen Clay

University graduate student Jaylen Clay submitted his short film, entitled "Black Boy," to be featured in Illinifest 2019. Illinifest features exclusively student-made films.

By Anna Wright, Staff writer

Students can spend their time at the University exploring their self-expression, discovering their passions and unlocking their own creativity. Illinifest 2019, the University’s student film festival, celebrates these pursuits.

This year marks the third annual Illinifest. On Saturday, at 5 p.m. in Gregory Theater, students will have the chance to attend a festival showcasing fellow students’ creative works.

“There’s a major film community here that most students aren’t aware of,” said Derek Tam, junior in Media and a coordinator of the event.

Part of the interest surrounding films on campus is the legacy of Roger Ebert, a world-renowned film critic who studied here in the 1960s. The College of Media hosts Ebertfest, a film festival that presents a wide variety of films. Illinifest, however, presents exclusively student-made films.

“We’re hoping that this will increase student involvement in the film community,” Tam said.

He and the other nine coordinators have been working to vet the film submissions.

“We received over 60 projects this year, and we’ve had to work to narrow it down,” Tam said. “You can tell a submission is great when you can sense the creativity and passion behind it.”

Raynah Unes-Reid, senior in Media, submitted a film for consideration this year.

Unes-Reid said her film inspiration came to her while listening to music. When she came across the song “Put It On Me” by Matt Maeson, she was struck with inspiration.

“It was only two days before I was turning my senior project in,” Unes-Reid said. “I didn’t have any passion for the idea I had been recording, then I heard this song. My creative process is a bit atypical, but something about the song resonated with me. I liked that I could feel the rhythm in my bones.”

She notified her production team that they were going to do something different from her original plan.

Unes-Reid began making films in eighth grade, but she didn’t originally intend on pursuing that as a career. This changed when she began taking media classes at the University. 

“I thought, ‘I love this. I’m switching my major,’” she said.

She used her knowledge of dance to create a music video around “Put It On Me.” Unes-Reid said she has been dancing her whole life. She said she needed to get ideas and movement out of her head and onto a screen.

Unes-Reid said she feels music and dance can communicate powerful emotions in viewers. Her film is titled “Resurgence,” and she hopes it can share the rejuvenating aspect these art forms provide her with.

“There’s so much I want to invoke with this,” she said. “I want people to leave feeling fulfilled, confident and inspired. You can get knocked down, but you can use that to create beauty and connection.”

Jaylen Clay, a first-year graduate student in FAA, also submitted a film for consideration in this year’s festival. His submission incorporates movement into storytelling. His short film “Black Boy” deals with his experience in the black community.

“I made it in response to the negativity surrounding the movement. I had to find locations that inspired me in the same nature as the movement did,” Clay said. “I decided on filming in my backyard since it reminded me of my roots.”

He said he found inspiration in modern films such as “Get Out,” a horror film centering on racial tension, and “Homecoming,” Netflix’s concert film about Beyonce’s 2018 Coachella performance.

“These themes inspired me … I too want to make films for my people,” Clay said. “Whatever people walk away with is okay with me. They’ve acknowledged it.”

Clay said he is comfortable with however the audience responds to it. He said he does want them to walk away with a new understanding of how to view blackness.

The actual filming of the piece posed its own challenges for Clay.

“The cinematography really put me out of my comfort zone,” he said. “This was my first time being behind it.”

He also said he worries about properly communicating his point to a larger audience. He said he is not sure if people will understanding everything he is trying to say.

Clay specifically pointed out his appreciation for his partner in the film, the dancer who appears on screen.

“It was hard at first,” he said. “I had to break down everything that I wanted him to emote, but it turned out really well.”

Event coordinators said they hope students leave with a dose of creativity that they can apply to their own passions – and perhaps even the inspiration to create a film of their own.

Both Clay and Unes-Reid share a favorite part of the film making: collaboration.

“My favorite part is always tossing ideas around with other creatives, Unes-Reid said. Different viewpoints always make for a better project.”

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