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FLEFF Intern Voices

The Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival from the interns' point of view

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Posted by Kimberly Capehart at 3:50PM
Dr. Thomas Shevory, Politics Professor and Co-Director of the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival

Blog posting by Kimberly Capehart, Documentary Studies and Production ’16, FLEFF Blogger, Cherry Hill, NJ

Dr. Thomas Shevory is a Politics professor at Ithaca College, but admits he took on a sort of “second career” when he became co-director of the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival 10 years ago.

Originating at Cornell University seventeen years ago, the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival (or Cornell Environmental Film Festival, as it was known then) was under the supervision of a Mr. Christopher Riley who recruited the current directors, Drs. Shevory and Zimmermann in the festival’s youth.

“For a long time we weren’t programming or organizing the festival, we were just kind of doing Ithaca College’s segment of the festival,” explains Shevory.

But that all changed when the festival lost its funding from Cornell University in 2003. In order to save the festival, Ithaca College made the decision to take over the funding and, subsequently, all of the responsibilities of the festival fell in the hands of co-directors Dr. Thomas Shevory and Dr. Patricia Zimmermann.

As co-director, Shevory is responsible for coming up with an annual theme for the festival, programming all of the films on-campus and downtown at Cinemapolis, organizing events, bringing guests to the festival, and more.

“It was a pretty big transition,” says Shevory. “When we worked with Chris [Riley], we would just figure out when and where to put films on campus: it was pretty minimal. But then, all of a sudden, all of the responsibilities were on me.”

The pair was responsible for some big decisions in the festival’s first year at Ithaca College: they decided to expand the festival’s definition of “environmental” and also to partner with local independent theater, Cinemapolis. Shevory notes that these decisions were made to open the festival up to a wider audience.

“We wanted to get the community involved – not just the campus community, but the larger Ithaca community,” he adds.

10 years later and Shevory is still juggling his position as a professor in the Politics department and his position as co-director of FLEFF, though much better than he was 10 years ago, he adds.

“It took a lot of time just to figure out what it meant to organize a film festival,” says Shevory. “But when you’ve been doing it for a while, just like anything else, you start to figure things out and it makes it easier and more manageable.”

Shevory notes that planning an annual, weeklong festival, is quite the process.

“We start [planning] as soon as the festival from the previous year ends. By April or May, [Dr. Zimmermann] and I get together and decide on a theme for the next year, which actually takes some time. The theme helps us to organize our thoughts and then we go forward from there; we start to think about guests and films and about what the marketing and the artwork will be like. It’s absolutely a yearlong business.”

Shevory is particularly excited about the theme of this year’s festival: Dissonance. He notes that a lot of creativity comes from putting things together that don’t necessarily belong together: much like an environmental film festival featuring musical performances and lectures, in addition to films.

“I think we’ve got a reputation as being an interesting, innovative film festival that’s environmental but doesn’t always fit with the categories associated with an environmental film festival, and I think people find that intriguing.”

 So what is his favorite part of this festival that he’s been so instrumental in shaping?

“The parties!” he laughs.

After chuckling to himself for a few minutes, Shevory adds:

“The parties are always fun because you get to talk to people. One of the main things I like about the festival is that some of the people we work with come back every year, so we get to re-establish those relationships we make. We have this huge group of collaborators and every year we get together and talk about ideas and go to screenings and it’s just so great. Just as with students, we [as faculty] are parts of departments and we sort of define ourselves within our departments; but FLEFF breaks down a lot of those walls that divide the campus in so many different ways. It broadens your connections with people in the college and people in the community and, to me, that is what’s really valuable.”

Dr. Shevory encourages students to get involved with the festival and to break down their own walls and make their own connections this year.

“It’s like what they say when people go to conferences: ‘All the really important work happens in the hallways.’ And it’s kind of the same thing with FLEFF, all of the really important things that happen, happen in the form of dialogue between the events. It creates its own environment… its own ecology: that’s what festivals do. I think we create our own really unique environment and I like being a part of it,” he concludes. 

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