Pitch Fest invites student filmmakers to pitch their ideas for new documentaries to a panel of expert judges in the hopes of being awarded a cash prize and recognition within the industry. The competition was held online this year in light of the festival being suspended due to the COVID-19 crisis. Six schools from North Carolina participated this year: University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Elon University, High Point University, Wake Forest University, UNC Wilmington and North Carolina A&T State University. 

The usually in-person event was adapted to an online format and had those competing record five-minute video pitches from home to then be reviewed by a panel of film industry experts.  This year the panel judges were Rachel Raney, Bri Castellini and David Fenster.

Raney is a veteran non-fiction filmmaker and public TV/radio producer with deep experience producing content. Among her many accomplishments in the film world, Raney served as the first Executive Director of the Southern Documentary Fund and has now joined UNC-TV as Director of National Productions and Executive Producer of Reel South.

Castellini is an award-winning independent filmmaker based in Brooklyn, NY. She is an adjunct professor for LIU-Brooklyn and Stephens College and the Film Community Manager for Seed&Spark, a highly regarded and innovative crowdfunding platform for independent filmmakers.

Fenster’s short and feature films have shown at film festivals, art museums, and media outlets around the world including: The Sundance Film Festival, The Museum of Modern Art, The New York Times, The True/False Film Festival, and HBO. His features Pincus, Opuntia and A Texas Myth, along with several of his short films, have played at RiverRun. He currently makes documentaries at Arizona Public Media in Tucson.

The judges met virtually to deliberate and select first and second place winners.  Winners will receive cash prizes to help find their projects, and all students received constructive feedback from judges.

First Place: Yuqi Lu, WFU Documentary Film Program with Painting Your Room in My Heart

Synopsis: “The family trauma Ngoc Du experienced as a Vietnam War refugee has defined much of her life, from her decision to become a pediatric surgeon, to providing medical help to children around the world, to putting the decision to start her own family on hold. Now Ngoc Du finds herself in another war–this time with COVID-19–as she takes on the challenges of adopting Tianfeng–a 12-year-old boy with Spina Bifida from China”

Judges noted the “strong narrative structure of the pitch itself” and described her filmmaking as having an impressive “elegance and polish.”

Second Place: Madison Rae Reitz UNCW with Clickbait: Stop the Traffic

Synopsis: Clickbait: Stop the Traffic is documentary that will take a look at the manipulation and abuse of women who are victims of sex trafficking and how social media has impacted and changed the way that trafficking happens. This film will address the misconceptions surrounding the topic and the platforms that allow it to continue.

Judges noted that her pitch was “Extremely strong, specific, passionate, clear, and focused.

“Adjusting Pitch Fest to an online format allowed RiverRun to still be able to offer this opportunity for new filmmakers to learn from industry professionals and grow as filmmakers,” said Caroline McMahon, RiverRun’s Programming and Operations Associate.  “This wouldn’t have been possible without the cooperation of the students, their advisors, and the judges, and I commend everyone on being so resilient and adaptable!”

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