Updated Tue, Feb 11, 2014 10:15 am
Todd Rohal, a 1998 graduate of Ohio University’s School of Film, debuted his short film, Rat Pack Rat, at last month’s Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
Rohal walked away from the festival with an award for his film and even took some time to Skype with OU film students who hope to follow in his footsteps.
The story of a Sammy Davis Jr. impersonator hired to perform for a sick child, Rat Pack Rat won the Short Film Special Jury Award for Unique Vision at Sundance. The 19-minute film was written and directed by Rohal.
"The Sundance Festival has always been super-supportive of everything I’ve ever done," said Rohal, who resides in Austin, Texas.
This year marked Rohal’s second appearance at the festival. Rohal debuted a feature-length film, The Catechism Cataclysm, at Sundance in 2011.
Having a short film entered into this year’s festival took a little pressure off Rohal, who explained that when you enter a feature-length film into the festival you also need to engage in ticket sales and promotions. Not having that extra work allowed Rohal to see some of the films in this year’s festival, including his own.
"It was fun to hear an audible reaction to the film," Rohal said, adding that reactions to Rat Pack Rat ranged from laughter to sadness.
Prior to heading to Sundance, Rohal took some time to Skype with some current OU film students who interviewed Rohal and posted the interview on the School of Film’s Facebook page.
In the interview, Rohal talks about creating Rat Pack Rat, his time at Ohio University and offers advice to film students.
"When I started at Ohio University, I always read about directors at the (Sundance Film) Festival," Rohal said. "The first documentarian I ever met, Jenny Johnson, came in as a visiting artist. I was in awe."
Rohal said the hands-on experience offered at OU's School of Film sets that program apart from other film schools.
"I was surrounded by a group of students who were incredibly creative and were really pushing the envelope of what movies should be," he explained. "At OU there was really this exploration of what’s weird, what’s different, what’s funny, what’s really out there."
As a filmmaker, Rohal maintains a friendship as well as a working relationship with fellow OU School of Film graduate Megan Griffiths, who has worked on some of Rohal’s films.
"Todd has one of the most singular filmmaking voices out there," said Griffiths. "It’s rooted in movies, art, music and culture that he’s absorbed throughout his life, but it all combines to form something completely unique and wholly original."
Rohal’s advice to Ohio University film students?
"For me, it’s really about doing things that are completely different from what you’ve already seen," Rohal said. "Especially when you’re young, make something that other people may despise. Make something that feels really true to you. Take risks."
Rohal is already influencing film students at OU.
"I felt fortunate to view one of Mr. Rohal’s films at the Athens Film Festival a few years ago," said Eleanor Crews, a senior in the School of Film. "It’s always inspiring to see alumni become successful doing the type of work they clearly love."
"The OU Film Division provides an environment where students feel they can take creative risks," said Annie Howell, an associate professor of screenwriting and production. "The Film Division was very proud and pleased that (Todd Rohal) was back at Sundance."
The entire Skype interview with Rohal is available on the School of Film's Facebook page.
Republished with permission from Compass.