Intellectual Property Law
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You've hit the successfully first-timer's conundrum; I hope you understand that the facts and circumstances here could take several hours of legal work to answer in full. But that kind of analysis is impossible on a publicly accessible legal-information site, such as this one -- simply because you'd need extensive confidential advice protected by attorney client privilege. That can't be given on the web.
But there is important information you can be directed to look over that can help frame issues -- so you can decide how to proceed.
Please forgive me, I know this sounds like I'm not directly answering -- but understand that this is not a yes/no situation.
Most filmmakers have agreements with any on-screen talent to ensure that there is an agreement over who owns what rights (copyrights, performance rights and, especially in California, "rights of publicity.")
All of these things generally require written agreements; without them, people can cause legal trouble by asserting them in court. Distribution could be stopped by an injunction or a court could order money to be paid.
Here's a link that has more in depth legal information: http://academics.hamilton.edu/mediascholarship/sitePages/files/NITLE%20MIV/MHcopyright.pdf
You may wish to join California Lawyers for the Arts ($15 annual membership) which can provide aspiring creative people with some more personalized and direct legal assistance through a series of pro bono relationships with established law firms. Its a great way for people in situations like yours, lacking deep pockets, to get legal help at little or no cost beyond membership.
You have to be accepted for services, but it is one of the best ways to get help with this type of thing.
One thing to consider is the motivation of those who may be withholding their authorizations now. Sometimes, people can be enticed into signing rights agreements by providing them with a piece of any successful indie distribution royalties that may arise should the film succeed on the festival level and eventually get into distribution. If its possible to discuss this hypothetically with your college-mates, it is not a bad idea to do so before speaking to the lawyers for the arts group's counsel.
If not, the lawyer provided by Cal Lawyers for the Arts can advise further based on the specific facts and circumstances -- best done, as noted, confidentially, protected by attorney-client privilege.
I wish you every success with this project and in the years to come!
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