Armed with an affinity for video editing and a DSLR camera “indefinitely” stolen from his family and strapped to his backpack, senior Erik Patak created a 10-minute video that is now one of three finalists contending for a $1,500 cash prize in the 2018 IES Study Abroad Festival.

The video is named “Happiness Only Real When Shared,” and follows Patak’s fall 2017 semester abroad in Auckland, New Zealand. It focuses on his travels, hikes, and bike rides outside the city.

“In all honesty, the most amazing part about Auckland is not being in Auckland,” Patak narrates in the film, over shots of grassy hills and forests. “The city is located right in the middle of the North Island, leaving countless adventures to be had to the North and the South.”

Patak also explored the South Island of New Zealand, in a trip detailed by an animated map sequence toward the midpoint of the film.

Patak was made aware of the contest by a Facebook friend, and then more directly by his program advisor. He came up with the title (and theme) for the film when watching “Into the Wild”, about hiker Christopher McCandless, during his trip.

Patak’s film is named for a quote from McCandless in “Into the “Wild”: “Happiness is only real when shared.” “[T]hat quote came up and I was like ‘Ugh. That’s dumb. That’s not true. I can be happy by myself,’” Patak said. But later, he said, the quote came to mean something more valuable to him, especially after all the friends he had made on the trip.

“[A]s I went through the semester […] I realized ‘Oh, wait. This would have been so different if I was doing this completely by myself and if I hadn’t met all of these cool people along the way.”

Patak’s short film combines elements of vacation video, documentary, as well as both personal and academic argumentation (at one point, Patak cites a 2008 psychology report). Also stylistically notable are Patak’s editing gimmicks: to transition from a shot of a car to the psychology report, the camera zooms out from the car shot, revealing it to be playing a laptop, which a hand then drops the report on. Patak’s use of sound effects and rapid edits are, by his own admission, reminiscent of “Baby Driver” filmmaker Edgar Wright, particularly in a sight gag introducing a car he used to get around Auckland. (They named it “Whippie Goldberg.”)

The study abroad program IES has run its student film festival since 2014, making this year’s the fifth, to which there were 96 submissions.

When Patak first learned that his film was a finalist, he did not quite realize the competition’s magnitude. The realization came when he received an email from IES with the poster for the film, complete with quotes from two of the judges. He sent them an email back asking, in his words, “how big of a deal is this?” He then learned that he would be flown to Chicago for the celebratory screening and reception on Nov. 7. The event will be hosted by Kate Flannery, perhaps best known as Meredith from “The Office.”

When asked what he was most looking forward to in Chicago, Patak said he did not know what to expect, though he did say that he will be interviewed for television, something he has never done before. But, in keeping with his film’s theme, Patak said he was focused more on the people he would meet — specifically, the other two finalists.

Voting for the competition ends 1 p.m. Eastern Time on Nov. 5. The winner will be announced at the celebration.

Tagged: study abroad

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