On Friday Feb. 24, Matt Hartzler ’13 screened his film at the Five College Film Festival held at Smith College. Hartzler’s film about the artistic process, simply titled “The Process” won Best of the Festival, Best Documentary and Best of Amherst. Hartzler’s submission, which he made as a final project for the class “Cine-Eye” taught by visiting artist Ramon G. Rivera-Moret, was one of only a few submissions from an Amherst College student to win Best of the Festival in the 18-year history of the event.
Hartzler has been directing and producing films since his first year of high school, when he and a friend founded an award-winning high school sports show called “The Rush.” In 2009, Hartzler won an MTV VMA for Best Performance in a Pepsi Rock Band Video, a music video competition sponsored by Pepsi and Rock Band, for his music video “Nerds in Disguise.” Two years ago, he and several friends founded a production company, named after the music video, that produces professional commercials and music videos.
Hartzler made his film as part of an assignment for his Film and Media Studies (FAMS) class in which he was required to film a 15 to 20 minute-long video on a non-fiction subject. Hartzler chose to film several different artists from the College discussing their approach to the creative process and their relationship with their art and the instruments they use to create it.
The film focused on four artists: Forrest Hudes ’12, Chris Payne ’12, Alex Chaviano ’12 and Oscar Bedford ’12E. Each artist was filmed with a specific item, such as a typewriter or a trumpet, used in their art with a voiceover monologue of them describing their attitudes towards their work. The artists were also filmed discussing art and learning about each other’s work.
Hartzler says he made the film to try to understand his own art: “I was just running with the idea that I’m a guy who makes film or video or whatever, and I wanted to think about how I categorized myself. I felt like the best way to tackle that was just to talk to other people who were artists and see how they go about doing their thing.”
The festival was judged by a jury made up of two students and one faculty member from each of the Five Colleges, and it awarded prizes for the best videos in each category and for the best videos from each school. Categories included Documentary, Experimental, Narrative, Animation and Dance on Camera. The jury viewed all of the submissions and chose the best entries to be screened at the festival.
Hartzler’s win at the festival comes at a particularly eventful time for film at Amherst. Amherst entries have historically struggled to compete with entries from the other Five Colleges, especially Hampshire and UMass, which both have well-established film programs. Professor Amelie Hastie, the chair of the FAMS program, put Hartzler’s success in context. “It’s confirmation that we’re doing something right. It shows that students here are talented and creative artists.”
The Film and Media Studies program, which helped to sponsor the Five College Film Festival, was initiated in 2009 as the result of nearly 16 years of planning. This year, Leah Longoria ’12 will be the first FAMS major to graduate from the College, and there were more than five times as many submissions to the festival from the College than there were the previous year.
According to Hastie the goal of the FAMS program is to synthesize critical studies of film and media with an understanding of the production process. “Moving artistic practice is both a creative and critical process. Our goal is to take the critical vision and use it in production and to use the creative mindset to inform critical writing.”
Both Hartzler and Hastie encourage students to take courses in the FAMS department. Hartzler said that analyzing films in his classes has changed the way he watches movies. “Everyone watches, goes to the movies, and not really knowing how films are made, how the shots are constructed, you only the minimal amount out of the film.”
Hastie thought the importance of FAMS courses went even beyond that, saying, “Moving image media is a means of understanding the world, and our society is filled with it. Taking FAMS courses offer a critical way to understand a world permeated by media.”
Although Hartzler is not yet sure of his plans for the future, he is fairly confident he wants to continue to pursue film in the future. “Film is a definitely a passion of mine. I mean, I’m clearly not terrible at it, so it’s interesting to see where it will lead me.”
Hartzler’s videos, including “The Process” can be found on Vimeo.com, published under the username nerdsindisguise.