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Cosmic Rays Film Festival celebrates the art of filmmaking

Cosmic Rays
Cosmic Rays is running at The Varsity March 1-2.

Time to press pause on your latest Netflix binge.

Cosmic Rays Film Festival is showcasing short, experimental films at the Varsity Theater on Franklin Street this Thursday and Friday. 

The festival, created by local filmmakers, UNC professors and married couple Sabine Gruffat and Bill Brown, is a collection of 42 films that celebrate filmmaking as an art form, including personal documentaries, computer animations and short experimental pieces. 

Some are less than three minutes long. Some are personal and poetic. All are created by up-and-coming artists and are free to the public. 

The project started with an open call for innovative, original submissions. Gruffat and Brown advertised the project to students and posted the call online to attract national interest. They hoped for the best. 

They received over 400 submissions. And they watched them all. 

“There’s a fine line between very strange and very bad,” Gruffat said, laughing. “We wanted to be sure we didn’t miss anything.” 

After their movie marathon, the committee began the process of selection. They considered which movies paired well together, the length of each program and diversity of genres represented. Their goal was a festival that celebrated innovation in style and subject. 

What they didn’t realize was, despite selecting films based solely on content, over half the pieces chosen for the festival were created by women, a rare occurrence in the filmmaking industry. 

Gruffat, who teaches a class on women’s representation in the film industry, was surprised and elated by the turnout. One of her favorites is titled “Are You Tired of Forever?” by Caitlin Craggs. It’s an intensely visual piece that promises “a surreal montage of serfdom in a lensed world.” 

Gruffat is excited to see Craggs’ work and all the others on the big screen, but knows not everyone understands the benefits of seeing films in a real theater. 

“One of the questions I get most is, ‘Why watch a movie on the big screen when you can see almost anything online?'” Gruffat said. “One great thing is you get to hear about the film from the filmmaker. It gives you a greater appreciation for the work that goes into it.” 

This is especially true for experimental film, a genre that many people haven’t experienced before. Katie Otto, a junior studying experimental film, is excited that Cosmic Rays will be at the Varsity, in the heart of the Chapel Hill community. 

“It’s a really great way to make experimental film accessible,” Otto said. “I don’t think a lot of people really even know what experimental film is, so it’s cool to have a whole festival exploring it.” 

The artists are also working to make experimental film more accessible. Jasper Lee, a filmmaker selected for Cosmic Rays, will be at the festival for his film, “Birth Chart,” and will talk about his process. He started filming close-ups of nature, including liquids and sediments, and realized they seemed almost extraterrestrial. 

“It looked like stars and galaxies,” Lee said. “So I started playing with a cosmic theme, things like horoscopes and the position of stars at the moment of birth.” 

Lee enjoyed the challenge of creating a film without actors, a different experience than working on a narrative film, and is excited that Cosmic Rays is bringing unique art to Chapel Hill. 

“It brings art from all over the country and the world to our community,” Lee said. “And something that is not typical of other film festivals: the emphasis on the experimental and the art-based.”


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