Sacred Heart University’s School of Communication, Media and the Arts (SCMA) is underwriting support, awards, prizes and a documentary premiere in partnership with the Ridgefield Independent Film Festival (RIFF) Oct. 18-21.

The third annual festival will open with Wildlife, the directorial debut of actor Paul Dano (12 Years a SlaveLove & Mercy). Dano, a 2002 graduate of Wilton High School, wrote the adapted screenplay from Richard Ford’s American classic. Wildlife, starring Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal, is the story of a teenage boy who witnesses the decay of his parent’s marriage after their move to Montana.

This year’s opening night also will pay tribute to Connecticut filmmaker Joe Consentino, who died earlier this year, by establishing the “Joe Consentino Emerging Filmmaker Award.” Six films—four narratives and two documentaries by first-time feature filmmakers—are competing for the $1,000 inaugural award.

In addition, there will be a $2,500 prize for a woman deemed the most promising female filmmaker, as part of RIFF’s gender equity and inclusivity initiative. Moreover, Sacred Heart’s MFA program will underwrite awards and cash prizes in two of the festival categories, Best Student Film and Best Documentary Short.

The SCMA also will underwrite the Connecticut premiere of the powerful social-justice documentary, Say Her Name: The Life of Sandra Bland, screening Saturday, Oct. 20, at 2 p.m. in the historic Ridgefield Playhouse. Produced by the Oscar-nominated Connecticut production team of the documentary The Cheshire Murders, the film examines the circumstances of Bland’s death in a Texas jail cell following a routine traffic stop. Sacred Heart’s support enables RIFF to fly members of the Bland family to the festival to participate in a moderated Q&A following the screening.

Sacred Heart University also has committed to providing technical support, student volunteers, interns and faculty advisors as part of a strategic alignment with RIFF, which provides screening events, parties and mentorship opportunities for filmmakers throughout the year.