The talented students of “FILMPROD 114: Introduction to Film and Video Production” exhibited great potential at Oshman Hall last Friday night. It was my second time in the University screen room, but this showing was quite a ride, featuring 24 different work-in-progress movies. These short films (around 1-2 minutes each) were wildly entertaining.
Professor of Documentary Film and Video Jan Krawitz welcomed the audience to the screening with enthusiasm as students from the class dominated the back row. The creators held vague smiles as they tried to hide their nervous laughter. I suppose artists are never satisfied with their work — they only see the humor in it, if not despair.
Still, the screening was superb. The filmmakers truly had fun making these pieces, and you could sense this enthusiasm in their final products. While I disagreed with some minor editing choices, the show was great overall, and I think making mistakes is part of the beauty in student films.
“Of Mice & Music” is Lore V. Olivera’s ’22 documentary about a pianist and her complicated feelings over dissecting lab mice. This piece demonstrated the best editing of any short film screened; its creative decisions seemed intentional and served the documentary well. Olivera’s edits of the subject’s narration played ingeniously on comparisons; I was particularly struck by a scene where cutting a mouse open contrasts with cutting a potato open. In another strong visual moment, Olivera slows down old-timey black-and-white footage of mice in an almost romantic way as the pianist talks about euthanizing mice. I think this masterfully captured the bittersweet nature of this story. For a grand finale, the documentarian employed scenes of the mouse jumping overlaid with intense piano music to conclude the (too) short documentary spectacularly. Olivera worked magic with this piece.
“I had never done documentary filmmaking before; you have more control over everything,” Olivera said. “The documentary feels raw, people won’t do everything again naturally, and you build the narrative around the material.”
“Up in Smoke” by Nina Knight ’22 and “Got a Light” by Grace McGinley ’22 shone through for their creative humor. Both are recut of the same film depicting two friends’ comedic, slapstick search for a lighter as they try to smoke a cigarette together. The original footage was shot silently, so the difference in the short films comes through the sound samples used in each. Knight’s implementation of action film sound effects set up a particularly funny tone, while McGinley’s hipster-ish music choices provided an edge to a comedic scene that was unusually affecting. McGinley’s score felt like a quirky, self-serious A24 film trying to be funny, and it works like a charm.
McGinley jokingly explained “the film is never done; you can [keep editing] the audio levels. You just have to call it a day after you watch the same clip for 4 hours.”
Diverging from the humorous undertone of the aforementioned films, “Moving Forward” by Betty Lee ’22 was a sensitive portrait of post-graduation life. In her film, Lee introduces us to her sister, now living alone as a recent graduate, who is experiencing panic attacks as a result of her isolated living situation. We see how the film’s subject attempted to reduce the quietness of adulthood by playing the VlogBrothers podcast on repeat, “I think there are 300 episodes; I played them in the background at least 4 times already,” Lee’s sister said. The brutally honest documentary made me question: what do we expect adulthood to be like? What should adulthood be like? When does the rat race for happiness end? How do we cherish the moment better? Lee’s short shined for its topical subject matter.
On a similar theme of growing up, “Caution: Children at Play” by Dakota Bailey-Van Kuren ’22 explored playgrounds and childhood. I was enamored by the beauty of simple observations in the short, and the film showed a great understanding of space through its attentiveness to the architecture of the playground. The film starts with light-hearted music that builds in motion as the scene cross-cuts between different playing equipment and children exploring the toys. The music pulls back as the raucous grows louder. The documentary surprises the audience when the camera shows the experience of play through the perspectives of the equipment, oscillating back and forth like a swing; it was jarring and surprising, but compassionate in how Kuren views the playground as a space with children as well as an entity of its own.
These shorts, and others shown at the screening, all showed great talent and promise. Unfortunately, there will be no more FILMPROD 114 showcases this school year: the class is filled with juniors and seniors and is only run once a year.
Hopefully these young documentarians continue making projects. Course student Justine Sombilon ’22 said that FILM PROD 144 helped her learn “how to use a camera and close-ups, and the beauty in the mundane smallest thing.” This is a unique experience, and hopefully we can see more work from the undergraduate film scene in upcoming quarters.
Overall, the showing was quite spectacular and a great reflection of the hard work of the students; a true revelation of the labor of love that went into every step of production, from the storyboard to its final cuts. Knight’s “On Film,” a love letter to filmmaking, left me feeling empowered to create art at a non-art school, and how special it is to be able to do this, made me cherish this brief showing even more.
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.