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The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

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Chris Matthews poses for a photo at the Global Hub in Posvar Hall.
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DOCTOBER competition showcases Pittsburgh student documentarians

Will+Zavala%2C+a+visiting+lecturer+in+the+film+and+media+studies+program+at+Pitt%2C+addresses+the+audience+during+DOCTOBER%2C+a+collegiate+film+contest%2C+at+WQED+Studio+A+on+Sunday%2C+Sept.+29.
Patrick Cavanagh | Contributing Editor
Will Zavala, a visiting lecturer in the film and media studies program at Pitt, addresses the audience during DOCTOBER, a collegiate film contest, at WQED Studio A on Sunday, Sept. 29.

The first annual DOCTOBER collegiate film contest took place last Sunday at the historic WQED Studio A, the home of the iconic Pittsburgh children’s show “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.” The competition invited Pittsburgh college students and recent alumni to submit short documentary films. It allowed submissions from 12 different Pittsburgh-area colleges and judges selected 13 documentaries as finalists. 

Will Zavala, a visiting lecturer in the film and media studies program at Pitt, served as the head organizer and judge for the event. Zavala said he wanted to create a documentary competition as an alternative to the fiction-focused Pitch-Burgh contest in the spring.

“A couple years ago, I just had the idea that I know that there’s a lot of good documentaries being made at the student level, but there was no venue for it,” Zavala said.

The 13 finalists competed for four awards based on research, insight, journalism and other merits. The organizers screened each film in succession with no intermissions –– a total run time of about two hours, similar to a feature film, allowing for audience immersion in each new world the filmmakers presented.

Regina Kakadelis, mother of Tina Kakadelis, whose film “daisy chain” appeared at the event, weighed in on her experience at DOCTOBER.

“I loved it. I have to admit that I’m not a film buff at all,” Kakadelis said. “But coming here and seeing the differences that people have in their creativity, I thought it was fascinating. I really enjoyed it.”

After the screenings, the judges announced winners in each of the four categories. Three of the four winning filmmakers, including Caleb Bender, Geneveive Newman and Aditi Sridhar, are Pitt students or Pitt alumni. Each winner won $250. Jada McKenna Jenkins, a student at Chatham University, won the award for best documentary proposal, outlining a future film.

Zavala explained what makes documentaries special to him, highlighting their storytelling ability that fiction can struggle to replicate.

“What I like about it is that documentaries tend to have vitality,” Zavala said. “They just seem to have an energy, which is sometimes hard to generate if you’re scripting and rehearsing actors and trying to produce a reality, you know. If you just go directly to the source, I find those more engaging.”

Though it was the festival’s first year, the event attracted an audience that filled the studio. The historic location, the warmness of the judges and complimentary food made the room filled with strangers feel more like a close-knit group of friends sharing their passions. After a few of the films, audience members turned to the filmmakers, congratulating and complimenting their work. 

One of these filmmakers, Andrew Lafferty, a Pitt senior English writing major, submitted his comedic documentary “Andrew Answers: Why Mustaches.” Lafferty, along with his producer Ben Asciutto, a recent Pitt graduate, have released several of these “Andrew Answers” segments and they decided to submit one to DOCTOBER at the recommendation of Pitt professor Robert Clift. Lafferty said his documentary was an in-depth, satirical look at topics many people would consider relatively unimportant.

“The logline of the show is, you know, we answer like the least important questions in America,” Lafferty said. “It’s satirical. It’s a field piece, is what we call it.”

Lafferty emphasized the importance of feedback for his films, saying contests like DOCTOBER are great for this purpose, along with showing the talents of like-minded peers.

“You can put anything on the internet now. Like, you never see, like, even if something had 20,000 views, I don’t know if they laughed at it, I don’t know if they hated it,” Lafferty said, “So yeah, [contests like DOCTOBER] are great. It’s cool to see other students doing things that I wouldn’t see them do.”

About the Contributor
Quinn Cilea, Staff Writer
Quinn Cilea is a junior English fiction writing and film and media studies major with a minor in Italian. He loves watching Chelsea, playing soccer and rock climbing. If he’s not out doing one of these things, he’s probably working through his long TV and movie watchlist or working on a music playlist.