Out of Pandemic Isolation, Alumna Creates Short Film Accepted into Cleveland International Film Festival

An abstract eye for film, creative camera work and a feminist mindset are all factors that make up Kent State alumna Ailene Joven, '21. As a digital media production student, she began creating the short film “Define” during the early days of COVID-19. Several years later, that film was screened at the Cleveland International Film Festival (CIFF) on March 28, 2023.

Now in its 47th year, CIFF is among the longest-running and largest film festivals in the country, drawing more than 100,000 film enthusiasts annually. As an Academy qualifying festival, it’s a “phenomenal” honor, according to Kent State digital media production faculty, for a recent alum to have work that was created as a student screened here.  

For Joven, creating “Define” for her senior capstone project became a way for her to emphasize the human condition and emotions, as she felt alone and isolated during COVID-19.

“I was really isolated during that time, it was really hard for me mentally because I was really sad and depressed because it was my last year at Kent,” Joven said. “Being a (digital media production) major, a lot of your work comes from collaboration, and you thrive off of those environments, so not having that really took a toll on me.”

Joven’s instructor Chris Knoblock, lecturer in the School of Media and Journalism, showed his wife, Assistant Professor Dana White, Joven’s work.

“He came home one day and said, ‘I have this new student who’s absolutely amazing,’” White said. “He showed me something she did for class, and I was just blown away and he said, ‘You can’t teach what she knows with a camera, she has this amazing aesthetic.’”

White would later become one of Joven’s closest mentors through the Female Filmmakers Initiative (FFI). White conceived the idea of a filmmaking group to empower digital media production females in Fall 2019, but quickly had to re-envision how to continue in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Joven and one of her classmates, Juliana Butchko, ’21, helped lead the way with “unstoppable leadership,” according to White.

“It’s an organization that promotes females working in the (film) industry and females having a voice and the power to play all of these different roles (and) tell all of these different stories,” Joven said. “It’s an outlet in a safe space for women to go and pour their gifts and talents into.”

As the pandemic was a confusing time for many, White said FFI was limited in what they could do, but didn’t stop operations. Joven played a crucial role in making the organization what it is today.

“To continue on as artists as we were all in isolation was an amazing accomplishment,” White said. “Incredible work emerged as they all searched for meaning during one of the most challenging times. I could not be more proud of the strength and conviction they all had for their art and craft.” 

Joven said FFI allowed her to find her home at Kent State and in her major.

“As a female I felt a little overlooked, so having this organization really felt gratifying to me,” Joven said. “I was like, ‘Wow, finally a place where we can all gather, and no one overlooks us.’”

She said being surrounded by female filmmakers helped grow her confidence in cinematography.

“It’s definitely a special, special experience and I’m really, really happy that it is now a thing in the (digital media production) program,” Joven said. “It’s just an outlet for women to go into and support each other and get our voices out there — I feel like it doesn’t happen often, especially in film.”

While the program itself impacted Joven, she said she gives most of the credit for this recent honor to White, Knoblock and the women at FFI.

“They all believed in me when I didn’t really believe in myself,” Joven said. “I still struggle with giving myself credit where it’s due, and those people really gave it to me. Chris and Dana are just so incredibly talented and they’re so humble about it. They really took me under their wing.”

POSTED: Friday, March 24, 2023 04:38 PM
Updated: Tuesday, April 18, 2023 02:30 PM
Kaitlyn Finchler, '23