Labor of Love: RSO prescreens independent short films


The Big Muddy Film Festival RSO is allowing students to begin prescreening independent film submissions for their festival in February. The prescreening began Sunday, Nov. 7 and continues at Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIU) through Sunday, Nov. 14.

The Big Muddy Film Festival is a student-run film exhibition which hosts independently made projects. They are judged by a panel of professional multimedia experts and filmmakers who award the makers of the best movies with cash prizes.

The Nov. 7 pre screening showcased a wide range of stories and emotions. One submission covered the story of Olympic athlete Kyra Condie as she overcame a serious spinal deformation to become one of the best rock climbers in the world. Another submission illustrated the grief of a widow as she mourned for her husband.


Sonal Vij, a second-year Ph.D. student in the film program, was one of the students who attended the prescreening.

“When you go, you forget everything else and concentrate on what’s in front of you,” Vij said. “I love the capacity of a film to take us to another place and time and forget about all our worries.”

Vij said one of the films which appealed to her was a short film about the gladiolus, a flower indigenous to areas around the Mediterranean Sea, and its relationship to the ceremonies and daily lives of the people of Iran. The film draws parallels between the popularity and use of the flower to that of its theocratic government.

“I like to see personal stories and poetic, emotive stories,” Vij said. “I like stories about different people I haven’t seen before, ordinary people and their struggles.

Sarah Lewison is an associate professor in the School of Media Arts at SIU. She has helped produce the Big Muddy Film Festival for four years.

“November 30 is our deadline for entries,” Lewison said. “So for the next few weeks, we’ll be watching as many movies as we can.”

Lewison said pre screenings will allow the organizers to watch some of the submissions to better gauge audience reaction, and craft a festival that will be accessible and entertaining to the public. She said this is the first time pre screenings have been made open to all students.


“In the past, we’ve had students from computer science and all kinds of other programs in our RSO,” Lewison said. “So we’re really looking forward to people being interested and finding this group.”

Lewison said the festival has historically been a place for students to craft a festival which will reach the rural communities of southern Illinois. She said while some submissions may better relate to more urban populations, the student choices will allow selections to better address issues felt in their communities.

“We try to really think about who lives here,” Lewison said. “What are the kinds of battles people are facing here? In a region like this, there are different kinds of battles than in Chicago.”

Students attending the film festival are shown film submissions and are asked to fill out a survey asking if the film should be shown, if any warnings should be given before it, and for any comment.

When the films finish, the RSO leads discussions to allow watchers to express additional comments on or concerns about the film.

“Maybe some of the submissions aren’t great stories and sometimes they are, but they aren’t great for this region,” Lewison said. “What you see in the festival are films reflecting the particular issues of Southern Illinois.”

Lewison said films from the festival were once used across the region to share stories with a broad audience. She said the films were shown in schools around Carbondale and surrounding areas as well as the local African American Museum.

She said, because the films are independent, they are rarely the types of films which typically make it into theaters.

“It’s a labor of love,” Lewison said. “These are the most sincere of the sincere. These films aren’t necessarily the films that make it to a distributor and they don’t make it to the theaters like the blockbuster, big cinema films do.”

Tyler Horn is the president of the Big Muddy Film Festival RSO. He said the Festival is one of the oldest student-organized film festivals in the United States, with 2021 marking its 44th year.

“The festival is student-led, so I’m hearing what students have to say,” Horn said. “How they’re responding really lets us help curate what ultimately ends up on the screen when the festival kicks off.”

He said the RSO has received more than 200 film submissions in the documentary, animation, smartphone, narrative, and experimental categories.

The submissions have been received from locations across the nation and around the world, featuring stories from familiar locations like Boulder, Colorado to European locales like Milan and Ibiza and places as far as Iran and India.

“It’s an opportunity for students and our jurors, as well as the audience, to see their work,” Horn said. “It’s good to see what this idea of cinema has expanded out to.”

Horn said the identities of the jurors for this year will be released at a later date. During the festival, the jurors will be presenting and leading workshops for those who would like to attend.

Horn said he enjoys the process of watching and selecting the submissions, and looks forward to presenting the submissions to an audience which can appreciate the work put in to make them.

“It’s really exciting to see how some of these films are made on smartphones and others with a traditionally higher budget,” Horn said. “But at the end of the day, we’re going to put it all up on the big screen.”

Lewison said additional pre screenings will be opening to students again Sunday, Nov. 14 from 10 A.M. to 4 P.M. and the Big Muddy Film Festival RSO will provide food and refreshments.

Staff reporter William Box can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @William17455137. To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.