The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Sam Bowden impresses with ‘Chat is This Real?’ in Bijou’s Open Screen Film Festival Debut

Sam Bowden wins the Bijou Open Screen Film Festival with his short film, ‘Chat is This Real?’
Sara Stumpff
A pedestrian walks past a Kokomo City movie poster seen at Film Scene in Iowa City on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023.

FilmScene hosted Bijou’s annual Open Screen Film Festival, a screening of 17 independent and student-made short films on Friday. Among these student filmmakers was Sam Bowden, a master’s student in his final semester at the University of Iowa.

Bowden took the top prize at the festival with his debut short, “Chat Is This Real?” The film is based on content livestreaming and social media, looking at what can happen when users take their interactions with content creators too far.

“[The idea] originated from my own social media algorithms. It was what I was being fed,” Bowden said. “I was very interested in seeing how people commented on them, whether it was live streams or general posts — the way people were behaving and saying things you would never say to a person in real life.”

The film garnered praise from the audience, even winning it the top prize. Miles Sheppard, a UI second-year student who attended the film festival, resonated with Bowden’s film.

“Maybe [these issues] happen more often than what I would expect,” Sheppard said, reflecting on the film.

Bowden was both the filmmaker and one of the film’s central characters, starring as an obsessive and inappropriate subscriber of Zest, a streamer, portrayed by fellow graduate student Parker Stenseth.

“He took on the character and it wouldn’t have been successful without him,” Bowden said of his co-star.

With “Chat Is This Real?” the message Bowden wanted to present to the audience was clear, but he said there can be a level of difficulty in fitting a large message within a short film as opposed to a full feature.

“Filmmaking is so much more planning than what goes into the project. [Short films] are supposed to be under ten minutes while being easily digestible,” said Bowden. “I was passing judgment on the character I played and the dehumanizing aspect that highlights the issue while also finding humor in it.”

Bowden is relatively new to the filmmaking world; “Chat Is This Real?” was made in a film production class he took at the UI for his Master of Arts degree.

While pursuing media studies during his undergrad at Indiana University, he focused more on film theory. But when the opportunity came to make his own project while completing graduate school, he took it in full stride.

“I felt like my past works were a lot more collaborative and, with this, I made the whole concept myself. I had never tackled recent issues or technology before,” Bowden said. “Highlighting the work of students is very important. Everybody has to start somewhere.”

More to Discover
About the Contributor
Sara Stumpff
Sara Stumpff, Photojournalist
Sara is a third year UI student who transfered from Kirkwood. She is a "non traditional" student who will hopefully obtain her BFA in Photography and BA in Spanish.