Red carpet remote: VADA to livestream film fest, awards show

Popular year-end student arts evening goes live online April 30

The show must go online.

VADA's annual student arts showcase will be live on the internet April 30.

VADA’s annual student arts showcase will be live on the internet April 30.

One of the most eagerly anticipated evenings of the spring semester for VADA – the Department of Visual and Dramatic Arts – is the annual student arts showcase. It’s an important night for student arts at Rice, and the VADA faculty and staff weren’t about to let the coronavirus pandemic take this tradition away.

So the 57th annual ceremony and film festival will happen online the evening of April 30. Student awards will be announced live, student directors will discuss their films in a live chat and even the films themselves will be queued up live at

“We’re actually going to be in the projection booth at the Rice Cinema,” said Tish Stringer, film program manager and VADA lecturer. “We’ll be missing everybody sitting in the auditorium, but it’s pretty exciting that we’re sort of taking the plug out of the projector and plugging it into the internet.”

The Rice Media Center already had to cancel some of its planned 50th anniversary activities along with screenings and gallery shows in March and April. That was disappointing enough, Stringer said.

A still from 'Cat Monologue' by Brown College senior Viola Yu, which will be among the films presented April 30.

A still from ‘Cat Monologue’ by Brown College senior Viola Yu, which will be among the films presented.

“But none of that comes close to how disappointing it was that we couldn’t celebrate the annual student film showcase,” she said. “Our students work really hard and they really enjoy that night when we all come together in the cinema to celebrate their work.”

Stringer quickly realized that amid all the other disruption of transitioning classes online, it might be relatively easy to stream those student films. So she set about figuring out the best way to recover the rest of the annual event, taking inspiration from the Ann Arbor Film Festival, where she was set to screen one of her own films this year before the pandemic forced the whole event online.

“You had to tune in live, there was a chat function, there were Q&As with the directors afterwards and it was really engaging in a way that just going to a YouTube link really isn’t,” Stringer said of the Ann Arbor event. “I wanted ours to have a similar, live, special experience, where no matter where we are in the world we could all be chatting in real time with each other.”

There’s even more coming from the faculty, said VADA department chair John Sparagana.

Assistant professor of painting and drawing Natasha Bowdoin is creating a slideshow to capture the life and spirit of VADA from this past year. Geoff Winningham, the Lynette S. Autrey Chair in the Humanities, Rice University Artist-In-Residence Allison Hunter and lecturer Will Fowler are putting together a slide presentation of the projects their senior majors have been developing for the end-of-year exhibition; a book is also planned.

A still from 'Zoom Prom' by Hanszen College sophomore Keshav Wagle.

A still from ‘Zoom Prom’ by Hanszen College sophomore Keshav Wagle.

“VADA faculty and staff are super-motivated to make a livestream parallel that’s fun, celebratory, content-rich, and we’re as excited and filled with anticipation as ever about the awards presentation,” Sparagana said. “And as always at this end-of-year event, there will be a robust presentation of student films — never dull, often impressive.”

Midterm films were completed before the pandemic hit, but many students hadn’t started their final projects. That means many of the final projects — and therefore many of the films in the festival — have been created by students by any means necessary, keeping with the Rice Media Center spirit of ingenuity against all odds.

“They’re doing amazing work at home, alone, with cellphones and without good computers to edit on and no audio equipment,” Stringer said. “And the stuff they’re doing is just stunning.”

As expected, most of the films are about the coronavirus and its immediate effects on society. Some are more contemplative, while others are comedic.

One film explores a day in the life of a cat trapped at home with its owner, from the feline point of view. Another imagines a COVID-19 prom.

A still from 'Mania' by Brown College seniors Ana Paula Pinto and Cameron Wallace.

A still from ‘Mania’ by Brown College seniors Ana Paula Pinto and Cameron Wallace.

“We’re in the middle of a historical rupture that not only do they need to respond to with their art, but which needs to be documented,” Stringer said. “These little sketches, these observational documentary pieces are amazing.”

Stringer and Sparagana are excited for students across the country to “tune in” alongside their families back home. Friends, alumni and other Rice Cinema supporters are also encouraged to participate in the evening’s Q&As and other live chats.

“I’ve been surprised and gratified to see how well VADA continues to function as a team in the current remote condition,” Sparagana said. “We feel tremendous concern and compassion for our students in this challenging time, and find ourselves with a great deal of energy, imagination and enthusiasm for generating a meaningful evening of presentation and celebration.”

The livestream of VADA’s 57th annual student awards ceremony and film festival will begin at 5:30 p.m. April 30 at

About Katharine Shilcutt

Katharine Shilcutt is a media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.