Interview with Festival Director Travis Gonzalez (Yale Student Film Festival)

The Yale Student Film Festival (YSFF) is an emerging student-run short film festival, providing the opportunity for university-level filmmakers, both foreign and domestic, to exhibit their work. It will be held on Yale University’s campus April 18th – 23rd.2016.

Interview with Travis Gonzalez:

Matthew Toffolo: What is your Film Festival succeeding at doing for filmmakers?

Travis Gonzalez: I think the Yale Student Film Festival succeeds at providing a large platform for filmmakers who may not attend a university known for it’s film production students. At Yale, it’s currently the most visible exhibition of our small community of filmmakers, whose work generally will only be seen by a handful of close friends and family (unless they choose to apply to other festivals). YSFF offer visibility where there previously was very little. By opening up the submission process to university-level filmmakers internationally, we are hoping to connect Yalie artists with the larger network of students out there creating work, many on their own or for the first time. The festival is an initiative born out of the Yale Film Alliance, a new umbrella organization fostering growth in the film community through events and coordination with Bulldog Productions (est. 2003, Film Production) and The Yale Film Society (est. 1950s-1960s, Film Appreciation)

MT: What would you expect to experience if you attend the festival this year (2016)?

The 2016 iteration of YSFF, it’s second year, will be a week-long showcase, beginning with screenings and workshops led by Yale Alumni in the entertainment industry. This will culminate in our two-day student screening block, where approximately twenty-five short films will screen across five different blocks (Super Shorts, Narrative Shorts, Documentary Shorts, Experimental Shorts, and The 2016 Yale Senior Thesis Films). Every screening will be followed by a Q+A. The student screenings will be followed by an awards dinner for all invited filmmakers. The festival is designed to be a learning and networking environment, where filmmakers from different universities will be able to connect and exchange ideas, while those rooted in the industry provide guidance and relevant feedback.

MT: What are the qualifications for the selected films?

All selected films must have come from a filmmaker currently enrolled in University. The films must be work that demonstrates movement towards professional filmmaking, but not quite at that level. Basically, we are looking for first-timers or those taking their first steps towards becoming professionals. YSFF is a short film festival, so we have a cap of forty-five minutes for a film, although generally it is more likely for a twenty-five minute film to be programmed into the screenings over one of double that length. Beyond those restrictions, the festival is open to submissions from students at an international level.

MT: Do you think that some films really don’t get a fair shake from film festivals? And if so, why?

Traditionally, Film Festivals can be seen as cultural gatherings that benefit the image of the city or host organization providing support for the event. Because of that, I think many festivals want to select films that are flashy and add to the spectacle of having a multi-day screening event. Films that are more understated, challenging, and out-there have a harder time of being accepted because they run the risk of taking us out of the spectacle. At Yale, however, there is a stronger emphasis on the filmmaker as part of the process, and bringing films to campus that do more to engage with an audience on a more thoughtful level. For us, it’s not a matter of what project will get the most “oohs” and “ahhs,” but whether or not you leave the theatre still thinking about and engaging with the work.

MT: What motivates you and your team to do this festival?

As a filmmaker myself in a school not traditionally known for film production (we have a great Film Studies Program, however), it’s very easy to feel isolated from the arts community. Theatre has very old roots at Yale, and film, by comparison, is very young. My team and I are motivated by a desire to bring our fellow artists into the spotlight and to showcase the work they are making early in their careers. By doing so, this will ultimately foster a stronger network of alumni and current students in the film industry, and bring further resources to filmmakers trying to turn their ideas into reality. This festival will be our roots.

MT: How has the festival changed since its inception?

Last year, the inaugural festival was only a weekend-long and was restricted to Yale affiliated filmmakers across the undergraduate, graduate, and alumni networks. We still screened twenty films, and the result further fortified our community, but it was much more insular than this year’s festival.

MT: Where do you see the festival by 2020?

I definitely see this festival being brought into a larger network of student film festivals, especially within the Ivy League. I definitely predict larger blocks of student screenings, and hopefully expanding our submissions categories to include screenplays and other aspects of filmmaking. Right now the festival is focusing on celebrating the technical craft of filmmaking, but I feel like it will soon expand to cover acting and writing as well.

MT: What film have you seen the most times in your life?

Little Miss Sunshine. It was the first film that I connected to on a deep personal level, and I never saw film the same way after seeing it. And so I watch it any chance I get.

MT: In one sentence, what makes a great film?

A great film is one that can transport you to another world, another time, another way of thinking, but by the end of its runtime, still hit close to home.

MT: How is the film scene in your city?

New Haven has an enclave of artists in general that are sometimes over-shadowed by the Yale Community. There is a festival Arts and Ideas in the summer, and an emerging New Haven Documentary Film Festival that will also be going up around the same time. So, like Yale, I think the New Haven film scene is growing, and finding out what niche of film is the most prevalent.

PHOTO: Travis chats with fellow colleagues at the 2015 Film Festival:



Interviewee TRAVIS GONZALEZ is a senior in Film & Media Studies at Yale University and a filmmaker from Staten Island, New York. He was the president of Bulldog Productions, Yale’s only student-run film production company, and is the film festival director for the Yale Film Alliance. Travis has worked as a writer, producer, and director on various student films, and has worked as a freelance filmmaker for several clients, including: The Yale Admissions Office, The Association of Yale Alumni, Paprika!, Sugar Hill Culture Club, Those People, First Things Foundation, City Atlas: New Haven. He is currently in post-production for Over Dinner, a twenty-minute dramedy about an eccentric grandmother, a single mother/daughter, and her son/grandson that he wrote and directed.

Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Fesival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

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