Film and music festival celebrates student creatives and public domain

Trophies wait to be awarded at Public Domain Film and Music Festival public screening in the Varsity Theater on Feb. 5. (Julia Cottam)

Student filmmakers and musicians walked away from Wednesday night’s Public Domain Film and Music Festival with over $3000 in cash prizes. 

The festival was put on by the BYU Copyright Licensing Office. Students had 48 hours to create a film based on one of ten pieces of literature from 1924 that entered the public domain at the start of this year. Entries in the music category were given audio recordings from that same year to incorporate into their compositions.

The winner of the evening’s prestigious Best Picture award and $1,000 was a group of students called RHEEL Productions, including Heather Moser, Avery Marshall, Laura Marshall and Emma Spears. Their entry was a dramatic short film entitled “What’ll I Do,” based on the 1924 novel “Some Do Not” by Ford Madox Ford. 

The night’s other winners included:

  • Best Musical Performance: Hyrum Kohler, viola, “A Tribute to 1924”
  • Best Musical Adaptation: Brody Rasmussen and Alec Bingham, “Searching for Rose-Marie”
  • Best Literary Adaptation: RHEEL Productions, “What’ll I Do”
  • Best Actor: Dylan Wright, “Dawning”
  • Audience Choice: The Bebes, “Missionaries and Mobsters”

According to Asher Huskinson, an advertising student and member of a team that participated in the festival, putting together an entire short film in 48 hours is no easy task. 

“You need to build your story around what you have access to,” Huskinson said. “You may have a cool idea, but if the location, actors and props don’t fit the story, then your film will suffer.”

Heather Moser, director of “What’ll I Do,” accepts the award for Best Literary Adaptation at public screening on Feb. 5. (Julia Cottam)

Current U.S. copyright laws protect creative works until seventy years after the creator has died. When that time has passed, the work goes into the public domain, meaning it is no longer covered by copyright protections and is free for public use and adaptation.

Cash prizes were given to the winner in each category. According to Sarah Cannon, the Copyright and Licensing Office event specialist, funding came entirely from various academic departments on campus. The School of Music, the College of Fine Arts and Communications, the Department of Theatre and Media Arts and other programs contributed to the cash awards. 

“We really tried to get multiple departments to participate because last year it was just film students,” Cannon said. “We wanted music to be really involved this year, so we were excited when they decided to fund and sponsor us as well.”

Ryan Smith, director of “Missionaries and Mobsters,” accepts Audience Choice award at public screening on Feb. 5. (Julia Cottam)

The festival’s culminating screening event was held Wednesday night in the Varsity Theater. Each of the ten finalist films was shown, interspersed with awards and a selection of musical numbers chosen from among the contest’s entries. 

Audience members were each given a ticket they used to vote for their favorite film at the end of the screenings. The film with the most votes, a comedy titled “Missionaries and Mobsters,” was awarded the $500 Audience Choice award. 

“Am I the actor or director? You don’t know,” said Ryan Smith, student director of the film. Smith’s twin brother Tyler starred in the film, though Ryan also appeared during a scene that required him to use his Japanese mission language.

“I hope that you can take away that life can be enjoyed, not just endured, and also that we can all change, no matter the circumstances,” Smith said upon accepting the Audience Choice award.

Kenny Baldwin, assistant director of operations for the Copyright Licensing Office, was the emcee for the screening event. He explained that this is the festival’s second year.

Baldwin said that each of the ten finalist films will be available to watch on the BYU Copyright and Licensing Office YouTube channel.

Audience members watche “Missionaries and Mobsters” at a public screening in the Varsity Theater on Feb. 5. (Julia Cottam)
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