2020 Student Film Festival Celebrates Student Work

Author: Shannon Rooney


Student filmmakers Bella Martinez '21
and Kelli Smith '20 made the documentary
Sandbranch, which was screened at this year's
film festival.

Last week marked the 31st year of the Notre Dame Student Film Festival. An annual event, the film festival screens films made by Notre Dame undergraduates as class projects. The students involved study the art of filmmaking in courses the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre. The department offers a 10-course, 30-credit major, with courses at all levels of filmmaking. Learn more. 

Each year, film festival audience members are invited to vote for their favorite film via text message and the winning film receives the Audience Choice Award.

This year's films featured a variety of topics, including finding your place at college, the story of a Texas community without access to clean water, a one student's experience of growing up Asian American in the Midwest.  

Senior Kelli Smith's 12-minute documentary film Sandbranch was born of her internship at the Dallas Morning News last summer. The film, television, and theatre major, who is also pursuing a minor in journalism, ethics, and democracy, learned about the Sandbranch community and the lack of access to clean water when she first read an article published by the Dallas Morning News. 

"I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that about 80 people in my home state were living without access to clean water," says Smith. "I wanted to find out more—but I also wanted other people to know about this area and its battle to obtain water because most didn’t seem to know anything about it."

Her Documentary Production course, taught by professor Ted Mandell, gave her the opportunity. 


Bella Martinez '21 films on

"I’ve always loved storytelling. It’s a passion that led to my studies of journalism, politics, and film at Notre Dame," says Smith. "When I saw Ted Mandell’s Documentary Production course as an option for the fall, I instantly jumped on that opportunity because it was a perfect cross-section of all of my interests. I wanted to grow as a filmmaker while enhancing my visual storytelling abilities, so this course was perfect for that."

Through the course, Smith and fellow student Bella Martinez '21 filmed Sandbranch. She says the process of producing a film at Notre Dame, from planning, to production, to editing, required time and commitment. But it was worth it in the end. She and Martinez used the medium to tell an important story. 

"On a larger level, the film is important to me because it’s about inequality and the crippling consequences of the opportunity gap in our country. It’s a story about an impoverished community that exists, unbeknownst to most city residents, right next door to one of the wealthiest cities in America," says Smith. 

The power of film to communicate a story in order to make an impact is a common theme throughout courses in the film, television, and theatre major. "In classes like Documentary Production, we aren’t just sent out to produce a film, we’re also taught the importance and power of a film," says Smith. "I firmly believe visual storytelling is increasingly important in today’s information-heavy world because it engages people in a way many other mediums can’t."

Learn More 

Explore the film, television, and theatre major at Notre Dame and learn about the film concentration here.