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Huntsman Hall on Feb. 26, 2021.

Credit: Alexa Cotler

Penn's first student-run film festival, Bifocal, will host its inaugural showcase on April 1.  

Bifocal seeks to amplify the viewpoints of student storytellers through selected film screenings, filmmaker discussion panels, and industry networking events. The event will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Huntsman Hall.  

Maya Pratt-Freedman, College senior and founder and director of Bifocal, was inspired by her experience through Penn's summer abroad course in Kenya, whereby she collaborated with FilmAid Kenya, a humanitarian organization that teaches filmmaking and journalism skills in Kakuma refugee camps. 

After interacting with young filmmakers in the refugee camp, Pratt-Freedman came up with Bifocal to connect with filmmakers her age and share stories with the Penn community. The name "Bifocal" refers to lenses that have the ability to see both near and far, matching the festival's goal of amplifying different perspectives.  

“There are storytellers everywhere,” Pratt-Freedman said. 

While the idea began as a collaboration with FilmAid, it soon expanded to students across the globe. Pratt-Freedman approached Penn’s film community members to join her team and help her turn the project from a website to a full festival.

The showcase drew in more than 140 submissions from over 30 countries, according to the student leaders.

Crystal Marshall, College junior and one of the festival’s selection directors, noted the innovation of the films she reviewed, in both ideas and technique. One of the youngest submitters was a 12-year-old girl who filmed a story about Ukraine.

“It's really cool seeing people so young do such really cool and innovative things,” Marshall said.

Marshall joined the Bifocal team last semester, and she attributed the project’s success to the hard work and preparation of Pratt-Freedman and Caylen David, College senior and Bifocal co-director.  

The festival schedule will begin with films submitted by FilmAid, bringing the project full circle for Pratt-Freedman. Speakers from the organization, as well as from around the world, will have the opportunity to discuss their work and win monetary prizes for their creations. 

Marshall stated that she hopes the project will help encourage young filmmakers to pick up a camera today rather than waiting to follow through with their passion. 

“I think that everyone is inherently very talented and can be very creative in different ways,” Marshall said. “Just don't underestimate yourself.” 

Pratt-Freedman hopes that the Bifocal Film Festival will become an annual tradition at Penn. 

“I hope that it continues to grow and ignite social, cultural, and political discussions across the globe,” she said.