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Student Film “Suspicions” Earns Five Awards at Prestigious Film Festival

Nov. 8, 2023

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Student films created through courses at Illinois Wesleyan’s School of Theatre Arts were honored with a variety of awards through the world’s premier online film festival in September.

Projects by film studies and theatre students received great praise from the Top Shorts

Frame of Valerie Martire ‘24 from student-created film "Suspicions" directed by Professor Tom Quinn and written by Stephen Nickisch ‘25
Valerie Martire ‘24 stars in the short film "Suspicions," directed by Associate Professor of Theatre Arts Tom Quinn and written by Stephen Nickisch ‘25, which earned several awards in the September Top Shorts International Film Festival. 

International Film Festival. Among them, “Suspicions,” directed by Associate Professor of Theatre Arts Tom Quinn and written by Stephen Nickisch ‘25, earned the most recognition, earning awards for Best Narrative Film, Best LGBTQ Film, Best Actress in an Indie Film (Valerie Martire ‘24), Best Supporting Actress (Molly Clemente ‘24) and Best Drama Screenplay. The film explores a discrete relationship between two female high school students that becomes threatened by an overheard conversation, showcasing the complexities of young love. 

Additionally, “Queen of Wands,” a fantasy film about a teenage witch in conflict with her high school’s starting quarterback and written by Christina Giorgi ‘23, received recognition for Best Fantasy Screenplay and Best Actor (Jacob Nuti ‘23). “Hand Me Down,” a film directed by Quinn and Justin Piotrowski ‘21 and written by Ethan Smith '23, features a boy, a dresser and the secrets it holds, earned awards for Best Horror and Best Cinematography, alongside a selection for Chicago horror film festival Days of the Dead. “Driving Away,” written and directed by Meg D. Iannone ‘23, is about the “what-if’s” of love in a split reality as a couple navigates a long distance relationship, and was recognized as an honorable mention for Best Student Film.

Having been awarded five major titles at the festival, the student-created film “Suspicions” surpasses the previous record of four awards for an IWU student film in this domain, set last year by “Be Well.” 

For a film to win this many awards, Quinn said a lot of things have to go right. He emphasized the importance of strong screenplays, which students complete in his screenwriting course. At the end of each May Term, Quinn selects 4-6 student screenplays for production, with those films serving as central projects in his Acting for the Camera course in the spring semester.

Hand Me Down short film recognition for Best Horror Film
“Hand Me Down,” a film directed by Professor Tom Quinn and Justin Piotrowski ‘21 and written by Ethan Smith '23, earned awards for Best Horror and Best Cinematography.

“As you can imagine, with all these moving parts, there’s a bit of alchemy involved. That is; there is great work done on all the films, so the particular reasons for one film getting lots of recognition, like “Suspicions,” is a bit of a mystery. But sometimes, story, acting, and production come together in wonderfully unpredictable ways,” said Quinn.

While awaiting results from over 20 other student festival submissions, Quinn feels the significance of the Top Shorts International Film Festival is particularly great. 

“Over the course of the coming school year, at varying intervals, we will learn of the various judges’ determinations in these diverse festivals. It is an extraordinary moment in the rapid advancement of film at IWU,” said Quinn. “Festival recognition and awards provide affirmation and proof of achievement for our students, and powerful, positive publicity for our program, letting the world know that we’re here, and we’re serious about what we do.”

Since their initial screening at the campus's annual Phenom Film Festival at the Hansen Student Center last May, the films will be available for public viewing in March of 2024 as the festival competition concludes.

By Emily J. Schubert ‘27