By Karl Holappa
Most students end up pulling an all-nighter at some point during their academic career, but Joel Moffatt made a decision during one that forever changed his life trajectory.
“I stayed up all night one night and decided I wanted to make a movie and so I just started making a film,” Moffatt said. “The film department fully supported me.”
Moffatt, who at the time was in the process of earning his MFA in theater, ended up winning best narrative at that year’s Humboldt Film Festival. He then was accepted to the American Film Institute, where he produced another film that won at the festival a few years later. He is now an associate professor at University of Hawaii, Manoa, and attended this year’s festival as a judge.
Moffatt said his career path most likely would have been very different, had it not been for that late-night decision and the support he was given.
“It is directly related to the unconventional choice that the theater and film department made in taking a risk and saying ‘Fuck it, you can make a movie even though you’re not a film major. We support you’,” Moffatt said.
Faculty advisor Susan Abbey said the film department has gone through many changes over the last five years. Curriculum and department restructuring, along with staff and budget cuts almost caused the demise of the oldest student-run film festival in the world.
Abbey said that many students sign up for the class responsible for the producing the festival in fall semester, but do not return in spring. She attributes this to the level of work necessary to produce a successful event.
“It’s not as glamorous as some of them initially think it’s going to be,” Abbey said.
Danielle Durand, a senior geography major at HSU, was one of the students that stuck around for both semesters. She felt compelled to step up and co-direct this year’s festival, due to a lack of volunteers. Durand and her fellow co-directors worked countless hours to fundraise, generate publicity, and select the list of films to be screened.
“We’ve put so much time and effort into promoting this festival,” Durand said.
Durand said the issue of charging tickets for students could play a part in decreased attendance. In past years, students were able to attend for free.
Another issue that arose was the choice of venue. In past years, the festival was held at the Minor Theater in Arcata. Although attendance was more robust during that period, the financials regarding the rental of the theater space proved to be prohibitive.
Abbey said there is a sense of pressure within the community to return the festival to a venue in town, but that there also is a sense of pride related to holding it on campus.
“I just feel in my heart that it needs to be here because it’s student driven,” Abbey said. “I think our biggest challenge has been getting the [campus] community of Humboldt State to know about the film festival and know that it’s theirs.”
Co-director Zane Krakowski said the development and retention of community and campus support overrides the issue regarding venue choice.
“We could hold the festival in the middle of the forest if we had the right kind of following,” Krakowski said.
Kenneth Ayoob, Dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Science, said that the future of the festival was addressed during a restructuring of the film department. Although participation in the festival is no longer attached to the major plan for the department, Ayoob said the experience is still highly valuable.
“It provides a lot of opportunities for students to do hands on kind of work,” Ayoob said. “I think if it’s marketed correctly in the right places, it can be a recruiting tool for awareness of our film program.”
Ayoob said that the festival plays a crucial part in upholding the mission statement of Humboldt State, which is to be a cultural and artistic center for the community.
“As long as there’s student interest, as long as I’m dean, and as long as the budget is stable, I want to keep the film festival,” Ayoob said. “You don’t just throw away a 47 year tradition.”
Using his home state of Hawaii as a comparison tool, Moffatt said that getting rid of the festival would be comparative to the destruction of a pristine beach environment, as both should be seen as limited commodities.
“The Humboldt Film Festival is Humboldt’s awesome beach,” Moffatt said. “If you got rid of the festival, you would be getting rid of one of the jewels of the university and the artistic community in Humboldt.”