Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
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Cue the applause

Student’s documentary will be shown at film festival

Wheaton College junior Eleanor Levine’s documentary “The Hidden Harpist” has been selected from hundreds of submissions from around the world to be included in the 2016 Newburyport Documentary Film Festival.

Levine’s film is one of 25 that will be shown on Sunday, September 18, at the Firehouse Center for the Arts, One Market Square, in Newburyport, Mass.

“I'm very excited for the film festival,” said Levine, a film and new media major. “I can't wait to see the other films and filmmakers involved and possibly connect with a few of them.”
The three-day film festival, presented by the Newburyport Film Society, Inc., celebrates nonfiction visual storytelling. It takes place from September 16 through September 18 at two Newburyport venues.

The call for entries went live last March and closed in July. All films were viewed by a screening committee and selected completely on merit, said Joanne Morris, president of the Newburyport Documentary Film Festival.

“Whether the film is a student film or from a seasoned director, all entries have an equal shot at acceptance. So the fact that [Levine’s] is a student film is a huge accomplishment. It is playing alongside films that have screened in top festivals, including Sundance, SXSW and Hot Docs. In fact, a few years back one of the films we screened went on to be nominated for an Academy Award. We are very proud of the caliber of our films and very excited for Eleanor.”

This year’s films cover a wide range of topics—from a look at the corporate battle over Market Basket, a New England grocery store chain, to an exploration of the struggles prisoners face after they are released.
“Eleanor managed to create a powerful profile of a young musician in just four minutes. The imagery was especially notable,” said Morris.

In her film, which is presented in black and white, Levine focuses on severe performance anxiety that often goes along with being a musician but is not often talked about.

“I knew I was interested in doing a music documentary, since I'm also a musician, and I'd only been told that my friend played harp—I'd never actually heard her play,” said Levine. “I thought of this as a good opportunity (if she agreed) to hear her music and learn more about classical music. The story is about her struggles as a musician, because it's always assumed that someone who loves playing their instrument is a performer. But that isn't the case with her, which puts her in a strange love-hate position with her instrument.”

Levine produced “The Hidden Harpist” during the spring semester in the “Documentary Storytelling” course with Assistant Professor of Filmmaking Patrick Johnson.

“I would highly recommend ‘Documentary Storytelling,’" she said. “It's a great course and it really taught me how to find a story in any real-life situation. Professor Patrick Johnson was a huge influence all along the way, especially during the editing process, and he definitely contributed to the end product of the film.”

Levine received support for entry into the film festival from the Wheaton Film Festival Submission Fund, which Johnson created last year. Through an annual contest, students can apply for funds to submit their work to film festivals. Based on the quality of their film and their action plan, they can win support from a tiered set of prizes for entry fees.

“Film festivals are a great vehicle for gaining exposure and building a recognized body of work. However, they're incredibly costly to apply, ranging from $25 to $100 for a single application,” said Johnson. “I'm always looking for new ways to support Wheaton students engaged in film production. Having professional-grade equipment is a good start, but finding other ways to support students’ artistic and professional journeys is a priority of mine. So the film festival submission fund seemed like an effective tool to both support and encourage our students to get their work out into the world.”

The professor was more than happy to do that for Levine. He describes her as an incredibly dedicated student, who is persistent and has a great visual sensibility.

“One example,” he notes, “in the production of ‘The Hidden Harpist,’ there were some interview takes that had audio problems. Rather than accepting these technical flaws or trying to side-step them by not using the material, Ellie scheduled another interview with her subject and reshot all the material just to get it right. Mistakes will always happen on film sets, but it's the dedication to one's artistic intent and putting in the long hours that often sets apart successful visual storytellers.”