My Week at Ivy Film Festival

I am officially obsessed with Ivy Film Festival. After buying tickets to at least six events last week, I attended two incredible screenings this week: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile and Booksmart. Preceded by a fun, animated student-produced short film and later followed by panels led by thoughtful student interviewers, the entire screening experience was inspiring. Its student-led nature and incredible guest, including Olivia Wilde made for an exciting experience. Here are my thoughts on the two screenings from this week:

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile follows the story of Ted Bundy (played by Zac Efron) from the perspective of his long-term girlfriend, Elizabeth (Liz) Kloepfer (played by Lily Collins). Bundy was an American rapist, kidnapper, and serial killer. . United by her intimate relationship with Bundy (who helped raise her young daughter), Liz refuses to accept Bundy’s culpability, and is physically and mentally debilitated as his criminal case progresses and Bundy is accused of more murders. In addition to her internal conflict, she feels an intense sense of guilt for allowing Bundy to raise her daughter and for possibly incriminating him in the first place. While the Netflix documentary Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes indisputably incriminates Bundy by detailing his horrific murders of young women, Extremely Wicked reveals the charismatic Bundy that appealed to Liz and women across the country. Furthermore, the film features only one graphic scene and several shocking images towards the conclusion of the case. It instead portrays Liz’s happy memories with Bundy and interviews with women in the courtroom audience who were attracted to Bundy’s confidence, looks, and charisma. Ultimately, watching the film from Liz’s point of view emphasizes the sinister message that a killer could be anyone or anywhere–as Liz, among others, trusted Bundy. Michael Simkin, a producer of the film and Zac Efron’s producing partner at Ninjas Runnin’ Wild Productions, stressed the importance of capturing Liz’s anguish during his Q&A following the screening. While Liz only visited the set once, actress Lily Collins ,who played Liz in the film, spent several days with Liz  unpacking her emotions at the time of Bundy’s case without forcing her to detail her entire experience. In addition, Simkin revealed the significance of the film for Zac Efron, who is largely associated with comedy films. For Zac, the film served as an opportunity to redefine his acting career. Simkin described that his experience in movies like Bad Grandpa (that received 5% on rotten tomatoes) was essential to his development as an actor and ability to effectively play Bundy (a man recognized for his charisma like that of Zac).

In contrast to Extremely Wicked, Booksmart is the hilarious story of two best friends on the eve of their high school graduation. After studiously devoting themselves to school for the past four years Amy (played by Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (played by Beanie Feldstein) plan to attend their first party and break rules for the first time (not counting their fake college IDs to use the UCLA library). Over the course of the night, Amy and Molly’s adventures as they attempt to attend a high school party are hilarious while accurately reflecting the themes of teenage life. In addition, their intimate female friendship is a rarity in the film world. In their post-film discussion, director Olivia Wilde and screenwriter Katie Silberman elaborated on the low standard for female protagonists in Hollywood established by the Bechdel test. The Bechdel test, created by Alison Bechdel requires that at least two named women must talk to each other about something other than a man at some point during a film. Unfortunately,  many films fail to pass. By accurately portraying a female friendship, something Olivia and Katie plan on elaborating on in a future film, the pair hope to raise the bar for films and promote women in Hollywood. As a prolific actress, Olivia also commented on her ability to effectively direct the film, as her experience allowed her to create an environment that was most conducive to acting and expectations that pushed the actors to play a larger role in the creative process. Olivia also invoked her love of music throughout the filming process and movie itself. In addition to stressing the importance of constantly playing music on set, Olivia worked closely with artists to develop the soundtrack for the movie. Throughout the film, the music flows seamlessly and seems to match the emotion in each scene perfectly; instead of asking the artists to buy the rights to the songs (which is incredibly expensive), she layered the tracks to each scene and then asked the artists for permission after sharing evidence of how the music truly brought the film to life. This was just one of her many pieces of advice to new directors: in efforts of hiring a more diverse  production team, she focused less on resumes and more on the passion of each member she employed, and asserted that in doing so created both an extremely driven and largely female team. The audience at Granoff, and audiences to come, applauded Olivia and Katie for their admirable work that empowers women.

Overall, watching these two films was incredibly fun and inspirational, and I look forward to my final IFF event of the semester on Sunday (a rising stars panel featuring Percy Jackson/Logan Lerman). I highly recommend you check something out if you have not already and be sure to look out for future IFF events. Although I am not currently a part of IFF, I am ready to join!