Cover Feature: Duke’s Independent Film Festival

Everything You Need to Know About DIFF

True Blue | Laure Bender and Brett Finkelstein | April 30, 2016

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On April 21st and 22nd, with awards following the evening of the 22nd, the second annual Duke Independent Film Festival (DIFF) premiered. Started last year, DIFF was the “university’s inaugural campus-wide film festival”, as it’s recapped online at the DIFF website. Due to the clear success, it’s back again to honor the work of student artists who would not otherwise be able to showcase their work like this.

DIFF is trying to change the fact that much of Duke students’ artwork is limited to the Arts Annex or Center for Documentary Studies. Didn’t know about the festival? We’ve got you covered.


1. What’s the Duke Independent Film Festival and do you know about it?

DIFF is now an annual event on Duke’s campus held to celebrate and recognize independent films created by Duke students. It began last year and has since gained a strong reputation on campus.


2. What does this film festival say about student talent here at Duke?

What students here have the time and capability to accomplish will never cease to amaze me. It’s the motto of “effortless perfection” that encapsulates so much of Duke’s student body, and film production is a really unique way to portray that. We become blind to all the behind-the-scenes and editing work, often overlooking all the work that goes into finished projects and accomplishments. This festival forces us to take a step back and recognize some of these students while realizing that these achievements are far from effortless.


Many of the documentary pieces included in the festival recognized members of our Duke community whose lives we might not otherwise know about. Two films by undergraduate Abhi Shah, “Jody” and “Jimmie,” featured Duke employees, the work that they do on campus as well as their passions outside of work. Daniel Moore’s film “Shaun Thompson” followed a Duke varsity cross country runner as he trained for his final race of the season. These documentaries not only depict the talent of the filmmakers, but also the talents of the subjects.


3. What’s the most important fact students need to know about the festival?

58 films were submitted for the festival this year. 58 films. This is only the second annual festival, and it’s already reached a level of being that involved and valuable to students on this campus. It proves not only the involvement of so many students here in film production, but also a community here that this festival brings together. Hopefully, this will set up for a future on our campus focused on this work, not just for independent films but all artists and achievers.

Not only that, Duke Independent Film Festival is also establishing Duke students as a member of the film scene here in Durham, further strengthening the relationship between Duke and the Durham arts scene. Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, Durham’s own festival which just celebrated its 19th year, sponsored DIFF this year, fostering student participation in filmmaking and art on Duke’s campus.


4. What do I need to go watch right now?

This isn’t just about another viral video on YouTube. The vast range of films that were shown echoed the diverse interests among Duke’s students. Each film had its own voice, whether it was a documentary, comedy, dramatic piece, or somewhere in between. Among the films were videos created by student groups on campus, including Inside Joke, The Standard, and a collaboration piece by Momentum and Out of the Blue to name a few. Some additional pieces that stood out in the crowd include “Neither Here Nor There,” a documentary by graduate student Wei Wang which followed a Mexican family that had emigrated illegally into the United States. The film was particularly moving as it also documented the relatives that they had left behind in Mexico, and the separation within the family.


A short film titled “Life is Better With You” by undergraduate student Taylor Peterson stood out for the quality of its production. Its quirky narrative is not unlike films we see coming out of Sundance Film Festival, as it humorously depicts a curious love triangle between a girl, a boy, and a stuffed Elmo doll.


These student projects – some made for classes, some as their own artistic ventures, probably don’t even lead you to believe they bear a student signature. Go on to the website and just take some time to sift through the submissions. You won’t regret it.


The selection of films from last year’s festival can be accessed here.
Stay talented, Duke students. We can’t wait to see and watch what you make next, and hopefully then follow up with a report on it from the other side. You create, we cover.