Interview with our filmmakers | Allentown film festival

Four students in the Film and Media Studies department produced short films that were recently accepted into the Allentown Film Festival. Sam Cohen ‘25 is a FAMS major, while McKenna Graf ‘26, Paige Mathieu ‘24, and Gianna Rauchut ‘26 are double majors in FAMS and English. In the Q&A below, the students share more details about themselves as artists and filmmakers, reflecting on the short films they submitted to the festival.

What is your earliest memory of film or the arts in general?

McKenna: My earliest memory of film is making iMovie trailers with my middle sister and family friends. I always assigned myself as the editor and cinematographer because I just really loved being behind the camera. Being able to bring to life whatever crazy idea presented to me is just something I find myself super drawn to. 

Sam: My earliest memory of film is of me coming home every day from preschool, changing into my Buzz Lightyear costume, and watching the Buzz Lightyear animated movie.

Paige: My earliest art memory is probably in the dance studio. I took dance classes at a small studio run by students at Muhlenberg College called MCDC. The classes focused on both learning dance steps and creating our own choreography. This love of trying out new ideas that began in dance class now extends to both my writing and filmmaking.

Gigi: My parents have taken me to Lincoln Center every summer since I was 3 to see American Ballet Theater’s performances. Also, as silly as it is, the second live action Scooby-Doo movie was the first film that made me aware of filmmaking, that this was something I could feasibly do one day.

How is the arts unique to your experience at Lafayette? Favorite part about the FAMS department at Lafayette?

McKenna: I applied to Lafayette because I felt such a strong draw to the arts community on campus. It’s small but passionate and a place that I feel such joy in being able to contribute to in a big way. I feel a similar way about the FAMS department. It’s also small but because of that I feel incredibly seen and taken very seriously as a maker and a scholar. These things work hand in hand to make me a better film student overall and I feel so lucky to have such strong connections with professors and classmates that are constantly encouraging me to do better.

Sam: Arts is unique to my experience at Lafayette because it has allowed me to meet and interact with a wide array of students I wouldn’t have known otherwise. My favorite part about the FAMS department is the professors. They all put in extreme amounts of work and effort to make sure the students get the best Film education they can. 

Paige: When I joined the Lafayette community, I never expected to be a FAMS major, but I really enjoyed the community that the FAMS department values. Being apart of the FAMS department has been a privilege because of all the wonderful writers, filmmakers, and scholars I have been able to meet along the way. Those in FAMS, both those still at Lafayette and alumni, take time to have share their experiences and ask about wellbeing beyond the classroom. It is this supportive network that allows us to create. 

Gigi: I love that the arts is so deeply integrated in the fabric of Lafayette. Without the arts, this school would not be as great as it is. The professors in the FAMS department are absolutely wonderful. 

How would you describe yourself as an artist/filmmaker in one word?

McKenna: Curious (but specifically like Alice in Wonderland)

Sam: I would describe myself as a free thinker and collaborative. 

Paige: Thoughtful

Gigi: Ambitious

What is the title of your film? What themes does it touch on? How would you explain it to someone who hasn’t seen it?

McKenna: “Lost Conversations” touches on themes of grief and memory. It is a conversation between a grandma and her granddaughter who never met her grandpa.

Sam: Shadows of Confession. I would describe my film as mysterious.

Paige: The title of my film is Growing Roots. It tells the story of a young student struggling to find their place in a new college community, so she adopts an emotional support plant. The film particularly looks at the theme of finding identity.

Gigi: Dear Summer. It explores friendship in places you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find it. My film is a love letter, a little abstract and a little beautiful. 

If your film had a tagline, what would it be?

McKenna: A granddaughter who has never met her grandfather, uncovers what might have been if he was still alive through conversation with her grandmother.

Sam: A person wakes up in a room with a detective. As the detainee is questioned, the horrifying truth of the situation is unveiled.

Paige: A freshman college student struggles to find her “people.”

Gigi: Do you love the snow as much as I do?

Who or what were your muses? What inspired your initial idea?

McKenna: My muse is my grandma and my late grandpa. I was inspired to pursue this project because my grandma has always compared me to my grandpa, but as he passed away when I was much younger, I don’t really know who he is beyond that comparison. This project (and the many others it has and will inspire) seeks to uncover who my grandpa is and what my connection to him means. 

Sam: The class FAMS 120: Alfred Hitchcock inspired me to make this film and in the style I did. Noir is a genre that always intrigued me. 

Paige: My initial idea I had thought of as a logline for a TV show during my TV writing course the previous year. The concept originally revolved around a protagonist talking to their plants during the pandemic. I chose not to develop that particular idea into a TV show script, but when I joined the short fiction film class, I saw the potential in the idea for a short film (with some adjustments).

Gigi: It’s been so long, I can’t really remember. My best ideas sneak up on me and they come out of nowhere. 

What was the most challenging part of creating your film? The most rewarding?

McKenna: The most challenging part of my film was getting acquainted with the camera. It was my first serious short film and there were many things that could go wrong but it was working with those challenges that has made me grow. For example, I ended up working more with archival footage because my lighting wasn’t where I wanted it to be. But editing the archival footage ended up being the place I had the most fun. It felt a lot like poetry to me, weaving together narratives of people today with photos of the past.

Sam: The most challenging part of my film was finding actors who would agree to appear in it. The most rewarding part was putting the finishing touches on it and knowing I had completed a film on my own. 

Paige: The most challenging part of creating a film is always the unknown. There are many factors that go into creating a film – from actors and crew to the weather. You do your best to control these things and plan for when things will not go according to plan, but sometimes things still don’t work out. I think that the most rewarding part of creating my film was seeing the completed work. It is exciting to see something that you are proud of and so many people put a great deal of effort into on the screen where others can enjoy it too. 

Gigi: I filmed it entirely by myself, it would’ve been nice to have some extra hands. The most rewarding part of the film was finding out everything was mostly in focus, as well as a shot that I refer to as the Jack Frost shot, which was just a happy accident. 

How do you feel about your work being showcased at the Allentown Film Festival?

McKenna: I’m really excited to get the chance to have my film showcased at the Allentown Film Festival. It is one of the first serious short films I have ever worked on so the chance to be recognized for all the hard work I put into it is very rewarding and is a memory I am sure I will cherish for a long time. It’s very nerve wracking but I will be there with family and I know I’m going to feel supported in a way I haven’t had a chance to yet with my art and I’m really excited.

Sam: I am very proud to have my work showcased at the Allentown Film Festival. It isn’t my first time having a film of mine accepted at one, but it is an honor to have it shown at the festival alongside my fellow students. 

Paige: I am very excited and grateful that my work is being showcased at the Allentown Film Festival. This will be my first screening outside of Lafayette, so I am excited for the opportunity to share my work and see the work of other local filmmakers.

Gigi: I am genuinely so excited, it’s such a great festival and I’m so glad that I got to be recognized by such a wonderful organization.

Is there anyone you’d like to shout out for their mentorship or supporting role in helping you achieve this goal?

McKenna: I would like to give a huge shoutout to Professor Drew Swedberg for his mentorship on this project. It was his class, Integrated Practice 1, where this project was born and it was his encouragement to just submit to film festivals that got this film even submitted to Allentown. I am eternally grateful for his enthusiasm and counsel about the project as well as the rest of my classmates in IP1: James Kohler, Cooper Vanneck, Leonardo Ontiveros and Zeynep Pilatin. I would often joke that I felt like a fake film major, but once I got to this class I truly felt respected as a filmmaker and I can not thank you all enough for the confidence you have given me. 

Sam: Professor Drew Swedberg, thank you for guiding me through the process while I was making the film and for always being there to give helpful feedback. 

Paige: I’d like to shout out all of the FAMS professors because they constantly encourage and inspire students to create and share important media. I would especially like to thank Professor Andy Smith because it was during his class that I created this film, and he constantly gave me feedback and advice about how to make this film its best.

Gigi: My parents. 

Are you working on any other projects? Any plans for a future in film?

McKenna: I am currently working on a longer documentary by the same name (“Lost Conversations”) in my DOC 250 class. It is expanding on the project from Integrated Practice 1 but I am taking a more personal and experimental angle. I’ve become really invested in the editing of this project and I hope to chase opportunities that help me learn more about a career in editing. 

Sam: I am working on a documentary right now for a class on the FAMS department, and I plan to work in film after college. 

Paige: I am currently working on my senior thesis in the FAMS department. This project began in the fall as a capstone project where I researched the Romantic Comedy genre and the subversion of this genre called the Radical Rom Com. This subversion of the genre looks at the ways that Rom-Coms can better fit 21st-century viewers. Based on this research, I wrote a TV pilot script of a show called Whisk Taking in the Radical Rom Com genre. For my thesis project, I continue to explore how filmmakers can subvert the expectations of the Romantic Comedy by filming the pilot episode. I am excited to showcase the pilot on campus later this month.

Gigi: There are always ideas whirling around in my head, hopefully over the summer and fall I will release more things. 

Anything you’d like to add?

McKenna: Yes! I’m working on self-promoting my projects more (I’m very bad at it!) so I’m just going to share that here! I’m a very driven and creative person and find myself very drawn to project-based opportunities. With that in mind, here are a couple of the projects I’ve been working on: I self-published a poetry book called “writing over the word limit” that is available here. I am currently working with Parisian Phoenix Publishing to publish my second poetry book titled, “Mortals, Myths, and Maybes.” I recently finished a fun short film titled, “May We Kiss?” which can be viewed here. And lastly, I chronicle all of my projects on my Instagram @mckennagrafwrites! Thank you so much!

Paige: I’d also like to thank my friends who supported my filming through their roles as actors, crew members, and reviewers. I really appreciate the time and effort they put into this film because this film could not have been what it is without them.