Moviegoers showed up in droves to the historic Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) in Downtown Brooklyn to see the debut films of graduating students from the Department of Film at the 34th Annual Brooklyn College Film Festival on May 31. Over 40 short films were screened to sellout crowds, in an all-day event. The festival has been held at BAM for the past seven years.

“I was nervous, but excited, and I couldn’t wait to celebrate with my family, friends, cast and crewmembers,” said Ivana Bernal ’16, who directed the award-winning Pelo Malo (which translates to “Bad Hair” in English), a favorite at the festival. “Having my film debut at BAM is the sweetest of all rewards.”

“It is an end-of-year ritual for our entire department. We always look forward to celebrating the hard work of all our students,” said Annette Danto, filmmaker, author, three-time Fulbright scholar, and Film Department chair. “The festival screening provides students with an opportunity to see their work on a large screen with a lively audience. This experience is the culmination of years of classes in our undergraduate program.”

The Brooklyn College Department of Film offers bachelor’s degrees and certificates in everything from hands-on film production to screenwriting and, through its Barry R. Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema at Steiner Studios, provides master’s degrees in fields such as directing, producing, and cinematography. Its outstanding faculty and administration work closely across disciplines to cultivate the next generation of cutting-edge filmmakers.

“The Brooklyn College Film Department gives you a great environment to experiment in,” said Dylan Kaplowitz ’16, an award-winning cinematographer who directed an imaginative, special-effects-laden film called Wandering. “The structure of the classes allows students to facilitate different roles in the production field.”

Home to approximately 350 undergraduate students from over 30 different countries, the Department of Film prides itself on opening doors to diverse perspectives and voices in the film industry. That diversity was reflected in the range of narratives screened at the festival, including the #BlackLivesMatter documentary, BLK GRL POET directed by Kearah-Armonie Jeudy ’16, recipient of an award in documentary filmmaking.

“As a poet and all-around artist, I knew I wanted to incorporate poetry into film somehow, especially my own,” Jeudy said. “I also had been working on film shorts that were strictly image upon image with very little dialogue and no interviews. I presented this concept in class and one of my classmates approached me. He saw my vision and offered to give me unused footage he had captured at a Black Lives Matter Protest in New York City. That footage, paired with what I already had—my film practically completed itself.”

Distinguished Lecturer Thomas A. Reilly, a three-time Directors Guild of America Award nominee, was in the audience and beamed with pride at the students’ artistic achievements.

“This is my fifth year as distinguished lecturer in film. I came here because the college offered me an opportunity to share my knowledge with the next generation of filmmakers,” Reilly said. “The most fulfilling aspect is seeing the growth of my students. It is rewarding to see them grasp various concepts and translate them to the screen.”

The event concluded with a ceremony honoring the “best of the best” of the students’ works with scholarships and other industry-related prizes, including the Oscars-like Brooklyn College Film Festival Awards. A big winner of the evening was Edgar Méndez ’16, whose heartwarming coming-of-age film, ¿Who Is Rafael Pérez?, was voted “Audience Choice” by attendees.

“They always say ‘write what you know.’ That’s the approach I wanted to take with my script,” Méndez said. “I also wanted to give a platform to my people: Nuyoricans, Puerto Ricans, urban youth, public school attendees, hip-hop heads, and salseros. I started my writing journey, decided who and what I wanted to be in it, and then, with those elements, I developed a story. I took a simple narrative, injected specific people and cultural elements into it, and then presented it to the world.”

Shortly after racking up awards at the festival, Kaplowitz and Méndez became recipients of yet another prize: the National Board of Review Student Grant. Each received $3,500 to help them finance and exhibit their future film projects around the world.

Below is the complete list of festival award winners.

Outstanding Achievement in Directing
Edgar Méndez (¿Who Is Rafael Pérez?)

Outstanding Achievement in Screenwriting
Ivana Bernal (Pelo Malo)

Outstanding Achievement in Documentary Filmmaking
Kearah-Armonie Jeudy (BLK GRL POET)

Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography
Dylan Kaplowitz (My Big Brother, Unfinished, ¿Who Is Rafael Pérez?)

Outstanding Achievement in Producing
Clara Brotons (La Quinceañera, Wandering)
J.P. Pacca (Unfinished)

Outstanding Achievement in Production Design
Frances Russell (Far from the Tree, Moving Express, My Big Brother, Reach Down, Sicarius, Wandering)

Outstanding Achievement Editing
Joseph Singletary (Moving Express, ¿Who Is Rafael Pérez?)

Outstanding Achievement in Sound Design
J.P. Pacca (Moving On, Unfinished)

Outstanding Achievement in Location Sound Recording
Michael Ruggiero (Absorbed, ¿Who Is Rafael Pérez?)

The Audience Choice Award
Edgar Méndez (¿Who Is Rafael Pérez?)