Vol. LXII, No. 30
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
The fifth incarnation of a two-day visual adventure, the 2008 Princeton Student Film and Video Festival, featured 16 original movies selected from 75 national and two international submissions. This years films encompassed a multitude of styles and genres including documentary, animation, personal narrative, and comedy.
The event was standing room only, with over 100 people filling the community room at the Public Library last Wednesday and Thursday evenings.
Teen librarian Susan Conlon, organized the film and video festival in 2004 after a conversation with local students on the librarys teen film committee, who were assembling a movie series for teen audiences. Ms. Conlon explained that at one of the planning discussions, one of the kids from Princeton High School (PHS) said, Why dont we show some of the films of kids at school?, and thus the festival was born.
A video incorporating stop-motion animation and documentary made by Hun School students opened the festival. Entitled Doc: The Animation Class, it followed how painting and video production students collaborated to create animations. Their technique recalled that of the films of William Kentridge, though the content was lighthearted. Jackie Benowitz and Chris Johnson were the producers and editors.
The room was filled with laughter during recent PHS graduate Robert Venanzis film noir parody Jack Daniels, Private Eye and David Coscarellis comedy spoofing Transformers. As Mr. Venanzi spoke about making the film, he expressed gratitude toward all of his actors and it was obvious that they had a lot of fun working together.
The most moving film of the night was a piece entitled Losing Ground by students working at the Educational Video Center in New York City, who documented the struggles of homeless LGBTQ youth. The filmmakers highlighted the story of a young couple, both of whom had been abandoned by their families after coming out. The documentary emphasized their strength and good humor in the face of hardship.
Chris Preperatos documentary Wide Awake tracks the effects of the sleeplessness he experiences as he spends 72 hours awake. Explaining the inspiration for his video, which came during his junior year of college, he said, Since I had spent most of April swamped with school work and sleeping maybe five hours a night, the connection between education and lack of sleep seemed pretty important.
Wide Awake featured an interview with a neurologist specializing in the science of sleep, as well as a video log of the actual experience of the filmmakers self-imposed insomnia. In one particularly piquant cut, the viewer hears Mr. Preperato propose his documentary idea off screen, to which the neurologist immediately replies Dont drive. A half-second later the viewer sees Mr. Preperato get into the drivers seat of a vehicle and slam the door before taking off.
Speaking to the effects of sleep deprivation, Mr. Preperato noted that he was expecting the mood swings, attitude changes, and personality shifts but added that the physical drain on my body really surprised me. Being both the protagonist of the movie as well as the entire production crew was good on one hand, he explained, because he had the chance to present himself in his own words, but on the other, the production itself was tough after 48 hours of being awake.
Regarding filmmaking, Mr. Preperato confided, I really love working behind the camera and seeing how you can shift the perspective of the audience with such subtle movements. He added that the editing of Wide Awake was fascinating since what I cut out or left in made it so different.
Another well-edited and composed film was Tamara Masris The People, a personal narrative reflecting on Palestinians as people with a unique identity living under oppressive conditions. It featured beautiful shots of the urban landscape and used voice-over narration and music to poignant effect. A student at the George School, Ms. Masri lives in Palestine, where she made the film during a two week period this past spring.
The festival ended on a lighthearted note with PHS graduate Brendan Deans Dirt, a comedy about an elderly couple suspected of being drug lords by a neurotic cop. Shot in black and white on 16 mm film, the movie amusingly juxtaposes the seemingly innocuous grandparents spending a quiet afternoon baking cookies, knitting, and reading, with the harried activity inside the van where the detective is briefing his junior partner on bugging the couples home.
Mr. Dean, who has had work shown in the festival in previous years, worked on the film as part of a project during his freshman year at SUNY-Purchase. He said that the casting was not difficult since his grandparents were eager to star in the leading roles. Explaining that what initially began as a coming-of-age story transformed into a different sort of project, Mr. Dean said, I decided to forego all of the character development, feelings, and emotions that go into making a great film, and make an easy, funny film instead.
While comic in content, Dirt featured exceptional camera work, including using film to record digital projections on a television monitor and extreme close-ups. Mr. Dean hopes to venture into mockumentary in the upcoming year.
Ms. Conlon noted that in the age of youtube where everyone can just sit around and watch videos, theres a real validation to be able to hear the audience respond to your film.
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