In their first ever film programming role, Ireashia Bennett, a film and media arts graduate student and director of The Diamond Screen Film Festival, will oversee today’s annual Diamond Screen: MFA Thesis Screening, featuring films created by Temple graduate students.
Bennett, who picked up their year-long role during spring 2023, will help manage all 2023-24 Diamond Screen events, a series of student film showings hosted at The Reel Cinema in the Howard Gittis Student Center.
“It’s the first time I’m doing any type of film programming, and so I think it’s been a really unique and really awesome challenge, too, for myself to move beyond the anxiety of being seen,” Bennett said.
As the MFA Thesis Screening kicks off a semester filled with various film events, Bennett plans on using their role to uplift the diverse voices within the program, foster a deeper sense of community and implement new traditions, like starting each screening with inspirational quotes from directors to create an encouraging atmosphere.
Bennett’s responsibilities include building each screening’s lineup by coordinating with jurors, the students, professors and industry professionals who decide which films will participate in the festival, and working with students to promote the event through marketing on campus and social media.
When selecting films, Bennett and the jurors choose from a variety of voices and genres to ensure an engaging and cohesive viewing experience, and to avoid overpowering or concentrating on any single voice or film style.
“We celebrate people whose films aren’t always the traditional three-act structure type of film, so we encourage and kind of celebrate experimental filmmakers and films that are kind of prioritizing voices that aren’t always given the spotlight or aren’t always heard in the ways that they should be heard,” Bennett said.
Before screenings, students pour their hearts and souls into the weeks or months-long process editing their film. Making a film and collaborating with others can be challenging, so Bennett encourages students to validate each other and act as a mutual support system.
“I think another aspect is just trying to cultivate a deeper sense of community, among the undergrad, or between the undergrad and graduate students,” Bennett said. “But encouraging people to just reach out to folks and if you like someone’s film, talk to them.”
While working alongside graduate students, Bennett also acts as a mentor. They often encourage their peers to submit their work to screenings and help them through their creative processes.
Cameron Gray, a film and media arts graduate student, submitted her film “Greens To Go” for this year’s Diamond Screen. She said the film is a commentary on relationships between Africans and African Americans in the United States and aims to spark conversations about stereotypes, misunderstandings and the potential for reconciliation between these two groups.
As a fellow filmmaker who also explores issues of race and diversity, Bennett provided Gray with feedback. With their advice, Gray confidently submitted “Greens to Go” to the MFA Thesis Screening.
“I think that they have a really great eye for watching someone’s work and determining how to get the best and the biggest impact out of that work,” Gray said.
Bennett also pushes students to pursue different awards and festival submissions beyond Diamond Screen events and provides feedback throughout the process.
“It’s a great environment to be prepared for your films to be submitted to festivals outside of Temple, and also it’s just a great way to showcase students,” said Jason Lindner, the assistant director of marketing and communications for the School of Theater, Film and Media Arts.
In previous years, students have won prestigious and career-advancing awards and fellowships at Diamond Screen, like the Princess Grace Award, which awards emerging artists, and others have been featured in Filmmaker magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film lists.
When working with students, Bennett considers themself a collaborator and a mentor, as they’re still learning and growing, too. In their mentorship, Bennett emphasizes space for diverse voices.
“I think my mentorship so far this year has been a lot about making space for others to feel like their voices and their perspectives are heard but also valued and affirmed,” Bennett said.
Beyond their leadership, Bennett extends their mission of uplifting diverse voices and stories to their own filmmaking. They are currently filming a short about Black and queer love, focusing on how the qualities of queer love differ from the heteronormative standard that exists.
“I’m kind of interested in what are the qualities of love that are different from the heteronormative types of love that exist within queerness, and how do those distinctions, through a queer perspective, lead to a more expanded sense of liberation and more expansive sense of healing and growth,” Bennet said.
While Bennett is occupied by actively working on their film, guiding others and directing Diamond Screen, they’re looking forward to the reactions of students attending to support their peers and those with films in the screening.
“This year, there’s gonna be challenges, but I’m looking forward to those sweet moments, those moments where there’s a sense of community, there’s a sense of collaboration and there’s a sense of like, like a deep pride for the Philadelphia film community,” Bennett said. “And, you know, that’s beautiful.