David Roemer ’02B and Dan Costa ’01B


Sundance East
Four alumni create a film frenzy

On a warm spring evening, an enthusiastic crowd of some three thousand lined up on the red carpet outside Atlanta’s landmark Fox Theatre. This particular audience was there not for Les Miserables, the Atlanta Ballet, or other standard Fox fare, but for an evening of sixteen short films created by Georgia college students during the 2004 Delta Campus MovieFest, a whirlwind week of novice moviemaking.

Started in 2001 by a handful of Emory students, Campus Moviefest caught on like wildfire in Atlanta and is rapidly making its way into other cities. In four years, the Atlanta festival has grown from a thousand Emory students participating to ten thousand amateur directors, editors, and actors at eight area universities.

“We really didn’t know what to expect that first time,” says David Roemer ’02B, co-founder and CEO of Ideas United, the fledgling company that organizes Campus Moviefest. “At the end of the week, we had fourteen hundred people in Glenn Auditorium going crazy, watching their own movies on the big screen.”

Roemer and Dan Costa ’01B, now president of Ideas United, conceived Campus Moviefest (originally iMovieFest) as a community-building activity among students. With the help of Emory’s Information Technology Division, they started by providing Canon digital video cameras and Apple iMovie equipment to each first-year residence hall floor and giving them a week to make a movie. Working in teams of about ten people, each floor produced a five-minute film, with a thousand students participating overall.

“It was kind of amazing,” Roemer says.

The second year, students at the Georgia Institute of Technology joined in, resulting in 130 movies and an even bigger audience for the standing-room-only screening at Glenn. Roemer, who received a Bobby Jones scholarship to study at St. Andrews University in Scotland, also organized a Campus MovieFest at St. Andrews, which was a huge success.

“That showed us what was possible when we put the tools in people’s hands,” Roemer says. “It convinced us that this event can work at any school, in any culture, and we dreamed of taking it anywhere. It was the only event we knew of that provided all the technology and stressed team building and community spirit.”

So Roemer, Costa, Ajay Pillariseti ’02C, and Vijay Makar ’02B founded Ideas United with the intention of expanding Campus Moviefest to universities around the country. Between approaching new institutions, organizing the festivals, keeping track of the equipment, and screening film entries, the group is putting in long hours; its motto is “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”

The all-Emory-alumni company has negotiated some critical sponsorship agreements: they continue to work with Apple, which loans all the necessary equipment–Apple iBooks with iMovie 4 software–to the student filmmakers and have also secured Delta Airlines as a corporate sponsor for Atlanta’s grand finale, “Campus MovieNite at the Fabulous Fox Theatre.” First-place winners won round trip tickets anywhere on Delta.

“We are working closely with Apple as well as Delta,” Roemer says. “They really saw the benefit of providing all this to students, to show their contributions to the community and to see what the students could come up with.”

The guiding principle of Ideas United is that inside all students is a movie just waiting to take shape, and the simple iMovie technology developed by Apple is a perfect vehicle for unleashing the filmmaker within. After watching thousands of student films, Roemer says the range of creativity, quality, and subject matter is astonishing. In 2004, winning entries from Emory included Twelve Fluid Ounces, a film about recycling by ECOSEAC, the Emory chapter of the Environmental Action Coalition; a scary movie called Library Staff Notice about what can happen when you don’t use the Dewey decimal system; and Onus, a movie about making choices and drunk driving.

“The common theme is the creativity the students show,” Roemer says. “We saw more than five hundred movies this spring and each one is different and powerful in its own way. One team got up to film a sunrise on a Saturday morning. The time the students put into these shows how much they loved the opportunity.”

Last year Ideas United took Campus MovieFest to Boston, where a half-dozen schools and some ten thousand students participated, culminating in an awards show similar to the Atlanta event.

“There’s definitely a friendly rivalry up there,” says Costa, who worked with a range of leaders at the institutions in Boston, from student activities directors to information technology departments. Part of Ideas United’s strategy is to involve students from the start, forming a student leadership team to serve as on-campus organizers for the festival. Ideas United is hoping to expand Campus MovieFest to four cities this year.

“This is such a unique event that people don’t really understand it until we get there,” Costa says. “But then they get really excited. It’s both fun and educational–not something you see every day.”—P.P.P.



© 2005 Emory University