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The Voices of Student Filmmakers Echo at TUFF

The Texas Union Film Festival displays the best creative, moving and hilarious films student filmmakers have to offer.

The 11th annual TUFF ceremony was held on February 20 at the Texas Union Theatre. The audience was treated with snacks, a judges panel and of course the films. A wide array of films were shown at the festival. An Italian style horror, a comedy following a man with OCD’s quest to talk to his crush and a social commentary on mass incarceration. All fantastic films showcasing the hidden talents of film’s up and coming creators. 

“It’s interesting how people at [The University of Texas at Austin] can really express themselves,” history major Ashley Gelato said. “I think it’s a great medium to really capture the hidden perspectives in a world that you don’t normally see.”

In today’s society people are more likely to spend their buck at a professional film from Hollywood’s biggest studios, or stay at home with Netflix. Student films are unfortunately underlooked, despite being just as important.

“It’s just another form of art it has just as much worth as anything else. It doesn’t matter if it’s student or professional, it’s still worth something,” Gelato said.

Courtesy of Unsplash

A striking black and white representation of jazz. A haunting stop motion feature showing the effects of childhood trauma. A jolly look at a run in with Santa and a couple of home burglars.

These students have definitely proved their worth, but there’s more to TUFF than giving these filmmakers an audience. It’s also about forging opportunities and connections in the film industry.

TUFF allows student filmmakers to get inspiration from their peers and get networking opportunities, said co-director Andrea Olivares.

“This is just another opportunity for them to potentially grow into [Austin Film Festival] and [Austin Film Society], to have the platform to get their films and message into a much larger picture,” Olivares said.

Courtesy of Unsplash

Co-director Norma Perez Duran recalled a time when a judge or guest offered a filmmaker a job.

“It’s definitely the opportunity to create something and have someone you might not have even heard of that can start your career or move your career up,” Duran said.

Three winners were awarded plaques for their hard and brilliant work. 3rd place was given to Joseph Marks for “Shut-In”, a mysterious film about an agoraphobic computer programmer beginning to feel his home is no longer safe after receiving strange messages. 2nd place went to Emmanuel King for “Solo”, a beautiful film following the story of a dancer and how she uses dance to express herself.  1st place went to Alex Fleck for “Warm Milk”, a surprisingly hilarious film about a man and his desire for warm milk.

Photo by Skyler King. Pictured from Left to Right: Andrea Olivares, Joseph Marks, unnamed, Emmanuel King, Alex Fleck

“I feel like especially with student films there’s such a diverse student body and a lot of different minds,” senior Joseph Banda said. “I was just really curious to see what stories our UT students had to tell.”

Luisa Gonzalez is the filmmaker behind “Natal”, based off a true story, it centers around a father grappling with his traditional values and accepting his son for who he is. For Gonzalez, the Q&A session was the most helpful part of her experience with TUFF.

“Those questions are really fun to get, and really think about because they might be a perspective that you didn’t think about before,” Gonzalez said.

This year was Duran’s second time directing TUFF and Olivares’ first, both agree that it is a very special and fun time for the Showtime committee.

“It’s also a fun event for us because we get to dress nice, take pictures and we really get to interact,” Duran said. “It’s like our own mini party.”

Sometimes even the hectic moments can add to the excitement and sense of community.

“The event created the opportunity for everybody to have this night where we were all helping, we were all working but it’s really our committee event and that was a lot of fun,” Olivares said. 

“Natal” was a personal favorite from the festival. Filming with children surrounded by expensive equipment was a challenge, Gonzalez said. She also worried about critical reception, but the film was welcomed with heartfelt reactions from audience members.

“I also liked Natal, just because I feel like I related to that story more on a personal level,” Banda said.

TUFF is a very unique and exciting event. You never know what can come out of a student’s head and then be turned into film. It’s this feeling of not knowing that makes this event different and fresh. Showtime is known for showing typical Hollywood blockbusters every week, but TUFF gives UT students a chance to see something new from someone they can see just walking down Speedway.

“We really try to encourage non student filmmakers or guests to come and join and see what our students are,” Duran said. “Show them there is more to just the big films, there’s people that are beginning their careers.”


You’ve probably seen them in your classrooms and if you haven’t, then you’ve definitely seen them tabling on Speedway. TX Votes is a non-partisan student organization that not only hopes to get students educated and registered to vote but works hard to do so.

By visiting over 100 classrooms this spring semester alone, there’s no question that they’ve made a recognizable name for themselves.  

Photo Courtesy of Kassie Phebillo

“I think as an organization, we have grown, which means that our outreach has grown ” Kassie Phebillo, Program Coordinator said.

Phebillo, who’s been with TX votes since that last general election, attributes the increased number of students they’ve registered to their in-class initiative that they started in 2018.

 “We’ve registered probably 5,000 students this school year since the beginning of fall,” Phebillo said.

Their efforts to register students before the deadline at the beginning of February contribute to the steady increase of student voter registration on campus. The National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement saw a 3,948 increase in voter registrations on campus between 2016 and 2018, so it’s no doubt that TX Votes’ work contributes to the positive growth of engaged and registered voters at UT.

And while TX Votes may be one of the most notable student organizations in the political-sphere – they attribute their recent successes and increases in student activity to the rest of the Civic Engagement Alliance. Without whom they couldn’t have hosted their Last Day to Register to Vote Celebration.

Now that the registration deadline has passed, the next goal for TX Votes includes getting students ready for the polls. With Early Voting and Super Tuesday dates coming up quickly, one-way TX Votes prepares for the hopeful flood of student voters is by ordering and distributing voting guides provided by the League of Women Voters.

“It’s basically a little newsletter with all these races. So, it’s like here’s a statement from this candidate and then their picture, and another one and their background for like all the races,” TX Votes President Anthony Zhang explained.

Photo by Evelyn Garcia

These portable voting guides work to ease first-time voters or any voter who may be put off by the process. TX Votes hopes to distribute these guides to students to ensure no one is misinformed or uneducated before stepping into the polls for what may be the first time.

“I feel like one of the main reasons that people will say that they aren’t engaged with politics, or nervous, or vibe, or like don’t want to is because they don’t know about a lot of stuff. So, there’s like a huge learning curve too,” Zhang said.

Along with helping educate voters, the guides distributed by TX Votes will prevent students from using their phones to remember or look up who to vote for, an action that may seem benign but in reality, comes with legal consequences. “We also provide them with what they need when they go in to vote. So, they’re not accidentally breaking the law.” Phebillo said.

With the national attention to the primary drama in Iowa, TX Votes combats any nerves voters may feel ahead of the Texas primary with accurate information, student-to-student engagement, and space where students can ask any questions regarding the civic engagement process.

See below for important info:

Early Voting in Texas:  Check out the FAC & PCL from 7 am-7 pm to vote! 

–    February 18th-28th, 2020

Primary Election Day (Super Tuesday): Check out the FAC & PCL from 7 am-7 pm to vote! 

–    March 3rd, 2020

Featured image by Evelyn Garcia

Orange bike project Keeps wheels turning at UT

First published in print.

Give a man a bicycle and he’ll ride for a day; teach a man to repair a bike and he’ll ride around Austin for a lifetime.

Located on the first floor of the 27th street garage near Kinsolving Dormitory, lies a hidden gem that has been on campus for about a decade. Orange Bike Project is an entirely student-run organization that repairs student bicycles for free in addition to renting bikes out for extremely low rates. 

All photos courtesy of Kara Fields

“It’s definitely a lot cheaper to come here than to go to a bike shop. I know back home where I’m from, El Paso, they’ll charge you like $80 for fairly simple repairs,” says McTzviel Oyerinde, a freshman aerospace engineering major at the University of Texas at Austin. At several other bike repair shops surrounding the UT campus, a simple brake pad replacement can cost up to $10, while Orange Bike Project (OBP) will provide the pads and show you how to quickly fit them onto your bike for free.

Oyerinde discovered Orange Bike Project while googling nearby bike repair shops to fix his well worn bike of ten years. “I initially didn’t know anything about bikes,” recounted Oyerinde. After volunteers at OBP showed him how to make the repairs, he frequently came back to the garage to tune up his bicycle and even undertook a project repairing his friend’s damaged bicycle. “I ended up really liking it and kept coming back next semester as a volunteer.” As a volunteer, Oyerinde continues to learn from problems as he encounters them, and then passes on his knowledge to students coming in with damaged bikes. “The idea here is that we don’t really just fix your bike,” says Oyerinde, “we teach you how to fix your bike and then you start doing the adjustments yourself.” 

Orange Bike Project was modeled after Austin’s Yellow Bike Project, a non-profit organization that hopes to get more bicycles on the streets of Austin by teaching bike mechanics and maintenance and running community bike shops. 

Orange Bike Project is creating a community of students willing to learn a new skill to keep the wheels turning in Austin, one bike at a time.

Orange Bike Project is open M-F from 4:00-7:00pm. 

How to be Cute and Cruelty-Free In College

As college students, we tend to lose sight of shopping ethically in favor of buying what’s cheap and convenient – especially in terms of fashion. However, as much as we love saving money, it’s important to remember those affected by our purchases, and that’s not always limited to people. The animals we love can be hurt by major fashion brands, too. According to PETA, many animals that we hold dear to our hearts are being exploited by the international fur trade. This ranges from birds, cows, and rabbits, to snakes, cats, and dogs.

So, how does a broke college student go about buying clothes, makeup, and accessories even Bevo would approve of? By shopping vegan, of course! While the word vegan scares some people, it’s important to note that vegan just means something free of animal products.  However, not everyone has the time to research what they’re buying – so here’s a list of affordable brands to amp up your look while you’re here at the Forty Acres.


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

H&M has made its mark as one of the few retailers to move towards sustainable fashion and beauty. None of their cosmetics are tested on animals, and they refuse to sell real fur. While the company does sell some leather products, they also have many faux leather alternatives that are just as cute. There isn’t an H&M near campus, but they offer free shipping for purchases over $40, and only charge $3.99 for anything below.

If you’re not interested in online shopping, the nearest H&M is located in The Domain at 11410 Century Oaks Terrace, Austin, TX 78758.

Forever 21

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Like H&M, Forever 21 is another brand that has promised never to sell real fur. They offer an extensive variety of faux leather products; from jackets and skirts, to shoes, belts, and handbags. Forever 21 is one of the more affordable clothing brands on this list, but prices depend upon on the quality and complexity of the materials being purchased from this store.

Forever 21 is great for online shopping and offers delivery services, but it is also located in The Domain at 3409 Esperanza Crossing #110, Austin, TX 78758.


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Unlike H&M and Forever 21, Target can be found on campus off of Guadalupe – also known as “the drag” in the longhorn community. They offer many leather and wool-alternatives, though the selection may be limited due to the small size of this location. Vegan fashions would be easily accessible here due to the proximity of this store to campus, eliminating extra shipping costs you might be met with during online shopping.

This Target is located at 2025 Guadalupe St. Ste 01-100, Austin, TX 78705.


Photo courtesy of Patagonia

There’s not a Patagonia store near campus, but Patagonia merchandise is sold in the Tyler’s store off of Guadalupe Street. This brand uses more conventional materials to create their products, such as hemp and recycled cotton, but they also have wool-alternatives such as PrimaLoft® to insulate their parkas.  They also reduce their consumption of wool materials by using recycled wool in many of their products. This is a great brand to help you keep warm this winter, but it is more costly than the other brands.

Patagonia products can be found at the Tyler’s store at 2338 Guadalupe St, Austin, TX 78705.


Photo courtesy of Pacifica

Pacifica is a brand that specializes in skincare and makeup that prides itself on being 100% vegan and cruelty-free. Their products are formulated around natural ingredients and fragrances, as opposed to harsh chemicals, and the same can be said for their makeup. However, because of their ingredient choices and product formulation, some of their makeup is not as full-coverage as conventional brands.

Pacifica products can be purchased online, or in person at the Target on Guadalupe.

e.l.f. Cosmetics

Photo courtesy of e.l.f. Cosmetics

e.l.f.  specializes in makeup, and beyond that, they ensure their makeup brushes and tools are vegan. A lot of their makeup products not only benefit your look, but your skin, too; most formulations include vitamins meant to restore and refresh your skin, unlike other beauty products. Also, e.l.f. is a very affordable  for the college student on a budget.

e.l.f. products, like Pacifica, can also be purchased at Target on Guadalupe.

Photo courtesy of Helena Lopes from Pexels