“Solitude: A Companion Abroad” Voted 2017 Study Abroad Film Festival Grand Prize Winner

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Thoughtful and creative filmmakers. A fabulous celebrity host (we're looking at you, Kate Flannery). And films that make you laugh, cry, and want to travel the world. No, not the Oscars (but close), we're talking about our 2017 Study Abroad Film Festival event! We were thrilled to announce our Grand Prize winner during the first-ever IES Abroad Study Abroad Film Festival event on November 1st, at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Chicago.

Ismael Byers (IES Abroad Santiago, Spring 2017 | Hope College) and Kyle Arnold (IES Abroad Santiago, Spring 2017 | Ithaca College) took home the Grand Prize for their creative short Solitude: A Companion Abroad.

This year, 93 films were submitted by IES Abroad students, which is nearly double the amount of submissions from the Film Festival’s first year, in 2014. Three films were chosen as finalists and were selected by a prominent jury of directors, editors, producers and screenwriters, all of whom are either IES Abroad film studies faculty from international Centers, or IES Abroad alumni. Solitude: A Companion Abroad was selected as the Grand Prize Winner by the public who were able watch the films and vote for their favorite on Facebook. More than 2,000 votes were cast in nearly four weeks of open voting to determine Ismael and Kyle as the 2017 Film Festival winners.

The winning film combines Ismael’s reflections on his time studying abroad in Santiago, Chile, with interviews of his and Kyle’s IES Abroad Santiago peers to answer the question ‘why abroad’, and to explain that study abroad is not always what one expects. Juror Willard Huyck, an Academy Award-winning writer, director, and producer – and an IES Abroad Paris Alumnus (1965-66) – described the film as “smart with heart.”

“This film is special because there is truth in it,” said juror and IES Abroad Milan – Film Studies Faculty, Mara Perbellini. “It has a clear, deep, strong idea that makes it emotional and thought-provoking.”

Ismael and Kyle accepted their award at the Film Festival event from 2016 Film Festival winner, Jordan Cain. The winners received a $1,500 cash prize and 1-year distribution deal with INDISTRY TV - a first-of-its-kind subscription streaming service that offers content shaped by its audience.

The event, which also intended to raise awareness about the IES Abroad scholarship fund to send even more students abroad, was attended by each of the 2017 Film Festival Finalists who flew in from around the country. The Film Festival audience also included former Film Festival finalists, jurors, alumni, IES Abroad staff, partners, donors, and friends. Guest host, Kate Flannery, best known for her 9 seasons as Meredith on the hit TV-show The Office, kept the night rolling (and the audience rolling with laughter) as she shared her connection to Chicago, the MCA, and love of travel – all deeply influenced by her aunt.

Before the winner was announced, Kate led a Q&A with Ismael and Kyle, and the other 2017 Film Fest Finalists Jake Hatfield (IES Abroad Tokyo, Fall 2016 | Penn State) and Wennicha Yang (IES Abroad Tokyo, J-Term 2017 | University of Minnesota-Twin Cities). The four students shared their process in making their films, how study abroad affected their lives, and their goals for the future.

Jake, Wennicha, and Ismael all stated they planned to document their study abroad experiences through film, however their initial ideas for their projects morphed over time. For Jake, his film Sapporo originally was supposed to be about his grandfather who was stationed in Japan while serving in the military. However, as he traveled to the city his grandfather had lived in, Jake realized that his film was about the people he shared his time abroad with, rather than his grandfather’s memories.



Wennicha’s plans to document her trip for herself personally were refined into a class project for her course on healing practices in Japan. She admitted that she was so excited to create the film that she finished it weeks before her professor’s deadline.

Ismael knew he wanted to make a film after seeing a flier about the call for submission for the 2017 Film Festival. Part way into his time abroad Ismael was without a phone, and asked his friend Kyle for help. Kyle was quick to offer a hand in filming footage of Santiago, shaping the film narrative, writing the script, and co-directing the film with Ismael.  

In his acceptance speech, Ismael said, “I want to give thanks to Kyle for helping me so much and actually writing this film because we shared the same experiences of solitude. There was so much frustration of not being able to integrate correctly into the community that was Santiago de Chile. We asked questions like: ‘What really is immersion? What is this over glorified word that we call ‘cultural competency’? And how do we achieve this?’ Not everyone does that, and there’s not really one way to do this.”

“I really just want to thank my parents,” Kyle said in his acceptance speech. “Without them, we can’t do this. We’re such a small part of the population that has the ability to go to college, never mind do that in South America … I hope that people go and travel and learn about themselves, and hopefully, our film shows them that going alone is okay, and that going alone is probably preferred.”

The evening concluded with a meet and greet reception with the Grand Prize Winners, Finalists and guests. 

The next day, Kyle and Ismael appeared on a number of Chicago morning talk shows with Kate Flannery to discuss the Film Festival and their win!

The Jam, WCIU Chicago

Fox32 Chicago

Windy City Live, ABC7

WGN-TV Chicago

Thank you to all of our 2017 Film Festival jurors, sponsors, volunteers, and, of course, our student filmmakers.

Missed the event? Don't worry, you can see all the special moments with our Facebook Live! 

Learn more about our Study Abroad Film Festival, see past years' winning films, and find out how to be part of the 2018 Festival!

Interested in studying film abroad? Check out all of our Film Studies or Film Production programs and courses around the world.

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