This year has been unlike any other for the film festival circuit as the pandemic forced the cancellation, delay, or reimaging of many notable festivals. Whereas some smaller events have relocated to drive-in theatres, others have moved completely online (and IndieWire is maintaining current listings). Local film festivals have a tendency to be more nimble and better suited to overcome the current safety challenges of presenting live film. One of the greatest benefits to film audiences is that for the first time, they can join from anywhere in the world!

Blacksburg’s own annual event, the Progeny Short Film Festival, stays true to its name by continuing to evolve and manifest new ideas. Traditionally held at the Lyric Theatre in downtown Blacksburg, Progeny’s 17th year at Virginia Tech will commence at the Moss Arts Center. The free event will also stream on YouTube Live (register here). 

Two college students outdoors wearing facemasks
Pictured: Cinema majors Virginia Gray (left) and Kyle Bradley (right)

While attracting a large audience is typically a goal, this year only 140 fans can join in-person, and registration is full. Progeny masks will also be available to all attendees. 

What began as a local event Progeny has since grown to be a mix of local, national, and international cinema from filmmakers with a range of access and skills. To raise the festival’s visibility on a global scale, cinema faculty began using a popular film competition site This year’s festival welcomed over 180 entries, the highest number to date, and students curated a final selection of 21 films to screen.

Red, blue, white, and black poster for Progeny Film Festival with a space man and alien

Student Contributions
Each semester, Cinema Lab offers hands-on experience for majors and Progeny is a core focus of the course. Student organizers assume a number of roles including marketing, design, submissions, and on-site event management. The 2020 Festival Director Virginia Gray, a cinema major who graduated this past May, had the idea to book the ‘dreamy punk’ band Gloz because she loves live music, but also to increase the event visibility beyond the established cinema fans. 

Also, selling festival t-shirts for the first time in many years will spread awareness and generate revenue for future events. Cinema major James Jaffee created a new high-contrast Progeny logo to connect the event to the local geography.  This year’s poster and t-shirt design (shown here) is inspired by the 1902 short film “Le Voyage Dans la Lune” (A Trip to the Moon) by Georges Méliès. The design reinterprets imagery from the classic film and also plays off the themes of the new logo. 

Students are excited to share the German film “Boje”, a father-son story with striking visuals, and “The Quiet”, an animated short from Australia exploring truth and memory in outer space. Don’t miss the French film “La rage” (The Rage), which brings timely attention to racial profiling admidst the recent intensification of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Due to the growing number of submissions, student curators have a much higher degree of control than they did in years past when judges decided it all. But that’s part of their learning, alongside coursework in film history and criticism that’s taught mostly by cinema faculty and longtime judges, Dr. Stephen Prince and Dr. Karl Precoda. This year we also welcomed a new judge, Dr. Letisha Brown from the Department of Sociology. 

the word 'metamorphosis' in white type on a black background

Progeny also upholds the tradition of showcasing student talent. Several local films made the increasingly competitive cut, including “Metamorphosis” by cinema major Sophia Trout. The documentary short features student Kevin Foster as he explores self-expression through drag queen costuming. James Jaffee also has a haunting and thought-provoking film screening this year, “Visions in X-Ray.” Faculty advisor Charles Dye, who joined the cinema department in 2014, expressed his goal to establish a cultural event in southwest Virginia. “We have legit films from all over the world, and some of our own students' work can be shown up against that and hold its own” Dye said on a recent call. Recently, the Hokie Short Award was added as a dedicated local category for Virginia Tech students. The festival also awards $150 in cash prizes to categories including: Narrative, Documentary, Experimental, Animated, as well as Hokie Short, while fans vote live for the Audience Choice.

Stay connected
Progeny’s Facebook page has been active for years, but now they have an Instagram (@progenyfest). Follow the festival accounts to see “official selection spotlights” of the films we can look forward to viewing this year. These spotlights (below) include film stills and descriptions, as well as director photos and bios. You can also find the festival on Twitter and leveraging this account has potential to foster new connections for the audience. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a synchronous exchange about the films, especially since most of us will be tuning in while physically apart?

picture of multiple images from Instagram showing a pair of hands, several closeups of faces, a boy dressed in western wear clothing, two people sitting across form one another at a diner, an xray of a person, cartoon drawings

Founding festival member John Irwin said, “When I think back to my time at Virginia Tech, some of my best memories were being able to find so many other students who were passionate about making films.”

The conception of Progeny was to meet students who were searching for ways to stretch their creativity and collaborate with others to make and showcase art. This mission holds true, and the current organizers have assumed a great deal of ownership for the event. There’s even talk of reviving the ‘Progeny Film Club’ to help cinema students connect with others across disciplines.

If you didn’t know, now you know, this annual event is not to be missed!

Kacy McAllister is working toward a graduate certificate in arts leadership, and also serves as the box office and student engagement manager for the Moss Arts Center.