The New Screen Fest Solidifies a Film Community at The New School

Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts at The New School celebrated an eclectic display of creativity and dedication earlier this month with the 2nd edition of The New Screen Fest. 

Started last year, The New Screen Fest is a student-run, faculty-assisted film festival that showcases short films made by The New School students and alumni.

The first run of the festival in May of 2023 which was held at the iconic Anthology Film Archives in New York City, saw over 150 attendees and screened 28 films from diverse categories including fiction, documentary, and animation. 

This year’s festival shifted its location to the unique documentary film community pillar, DCTV (The Downtown Community Television Center) in Chinatown. Utilizing the venue’s firehouse cinema and dynamic event space, students with the help of esteemed professor and filmmaker Nathan Fitch, curated a spellbinding spectacle representing a mass of creative and inspired  individuals.

The festival, held on May 11, 2024, featured 26 films, a special guest visit and conversation with award-winning filmmaker and cinematographer Kirsten Johnson, and an award ceremony to commemorate general audience and student-appointed jury favorites out of the array of films. 

The festival saw over 200 attendees who enjoyed student-designed and printed merchandise, a step-and-repeat photo op section, and delicious low-priced snacks and beverages courtesy of the extraordinary and collaborative DCTV staff. 

Though DCTV adheres to a documentary-only screening schedule on a regular basis, the theater accommodated the expansive catalog of student films which contained similar genres from last year but also incorporated a wide range of projects on 16-millimeter film and music videos. 

Of these incredible 26 films, audiences and jury members, renowned New School faculty and creatives Leo Goldsmith, Mike Crane, and Jesse Wakeman as well as New School alumni and groundbreaking filmmaker Devon Blackwell chose a favorite film from each block, awarding students with accolades and useful prizes to continue their filmmaking careers. 

Student filmmaker Nicholas Aragon-Maresca was thrilled to receive the audience award for his film “American Therapy” saying, “It felt cathartic like a weight being lifted off my shoulders in a way.”

The win was especially formative for Aragon-Maresca as he grappled with numerous challenges and insecurities during the filmmaking process, following a bicycle accident. “I was, and still am, filled with a tremendous sense of doubt about my ability as a filmmaker, storyteller, artist, etc. Especially since my accident.”

“Along the journey of making the film, that has coincided with my recovery, there were multiple very real moments where I considered throwing in the towel,” he continued. “So there was definitely a feeling of relief for me when winning the audience award as it made me think, ‘Hey maybe I am doing something right!’”  

Blythe Graziano, another student filmmaker, was the recipient of the jury award for her film “The Bigger Half,” and expressed her gratitude and excitement at the achievement. “I felt really proud just to be able to screen a film at the festival at all, and being able to see the film that I’ve worked so hard on in a proper theater with a real audience was extremely rewarding,” she said.

Blythe Graziano’s film “The Bigger Half” screening at The 2024 New Screen Fest. Photo credit: Eliot Yun and Noah Engle

She continued, “I think winning the jury award was like a cherry on top of the whole experience. It made me feel really proud of my cast and crew that we made something that was able to resonate with people in some way.”

While 2024 is the festival’s second year, this was the first time a class centered around actualizing the event was added to The New School’s curriculum. The class saw students divided into four groups, (design, outreach, event planning, and programming) that developed and executed responsibilities and plans to see The New Screen Fest come to fruition. 

“I was really thinking about how I could build in structure but also give enough space so that students could take charge and have agency,” professor of the Lang Film Festival class Nathan Fitch said about organizing the logistics of the class. “It was also very exciting to get to teach a class where I trusted the students to take ownership.”

Student Alexandra Zvagelsky whose 16-millimeter memoir film “Колыбельная (Lullaby)” appeared in the festival talked about how working diligently on the outreach and programming teams helped her establish more of a sense of community within The New School’s film program.

“Honestly I’ve never felt more connected to this university,” she said. “I can see the community. I can feel like I’m a part of it now and I’m contributing to it and hopefully making it a better place.”

The class setting not only instilled necessary interactions and tools for planning a film festival but also allowed students to get a taste of an environment that they may soon be heading into. Graduating students of the Lang Film Festival class experienced immense elation as many of them saw their senior thesis films screened for friends and family at the appraised festival.

Students and attendees also got to hear from the trailblazing filmmaker and cinematographer Kirsten Johnson and ask her questions about her extensive filmography and professional work as well as for advice on breaking into the daunting world of filmmaking. 

Johnson spoke with long-time fan and film student Mariah McSweeney whose poignant questions allowed for a profoundly resonant and inspirational conversation. “Kirsten Johnson was an incredibly fitting guest speaker for our festival and I was approached by many attendees afterward who were moved by her words,” McSweeney said,

Kirsten Johnson and Mariah McSweeney at The 2024 New Screen Fest. Photo credit: Eliot Yun and Noah Engle 

“It was so special to me to end my college experience by speaking with her since she has been such an inspiration and influence on my work during my time at The New School,” she elaborated. 

The New Screen Fest serves as a remarkable achievement for The New School community, specifically its circles in film, cultivating a potent connectedness for all involved. The festival’s novelty didn’t produce an inkling of intimidation for those who catalyzed its creation but only inspired them to materialize new ideas and new ways to approach a film festival.

Film is innately an art form that connects us all and the commitment to that central ideology was present in every aspect of The New Screen Fest. As the festival moves towards a vibrant future, generations of The New School students and staff are anticipated to remain conscious of its principles and foster a foundation for artistry necessary to the desire for human expression.