Event Review: Sixty Hour Film Blitz 2015

Allison Morano attended the 60 Hour Film Blitz 2015, sponsored by the School of Film in St. Andrews, and shares with us the excitement of The Screening and Awards Gala. 11006416_638912479548730_6783116173151270886_nLast night, I attended the 5th Annual 60-Hr Film Blitz Screening and Awards Gala at the Byre. Twenty-four different student-led film crews had sixty hours to film and edit three-minute short films. The prompt? Follow the music. A different song of the director’s choice inspired each short. As far as I could tell, the guests of the event were mostly the contestants, friends of the contestants, and interested film faculty and students. This wasn't a small group though. We managed to fill up the whole theatre. Tom Rice as the MC brought me back to my days in first year, we appreciated the crack he made about his own lectures. The Organising Committee did a wonderful job orchestrating the event, although I suggest a small break between each film to let the audience absorb what they just watched. Other than that, the event went off without a hitch, thanks to the lovely Byre and its bar.There was a wide variety in terms of production values, and directors shot with equipment ranging from smartphones to high quality digital cameras.A surprising majority of the films were dark and contained themes such as rape, death, and murder. A few fellow guests theorized that it is the nature of young artists to stray toward such heavy themes. Watching them, I was still impressed by the ingenuity of the directors to pull together these films in less than three days. Editing by itself is a cross between a puzzle and a needle in a haystack.1610899_10206564326335238_6293998970441050542_nThe award for cinematography went to ‘Nocturne’ (The Lonely Cricket), which played with color schemes in different lighting as a hopeful pianist fantasizes about a performance, and gets hit by a car. The award for editing went to ‘Empathy’ (TJ), which featured West Sands and created a rhythm from the waves to the music. The second runner up, ‘Transparency’ (M&B Arts) told a story of a flat party and a drinking problem through a glass. The first runner up was ‘The Walk’ (Laura Wadah & Team) a moving tale about an old man who faces his fear of leaving the house to take his dog for a walk. The short ‘Just Being’ (Aperture Biotechnics) took first place, and I couldn’t tell you exactly what it was about (a robot person?) but its editing was phenomenal and it was really enjoyable, in my humble opinion.None of these won Audience Award, which instead was shared by ‘Aletheia’ (Marcin and Emma) and 'Little Things' (Emily Tucker Prescott & Team,) both of which were far less sad than many of the other entries. ‘Aletheia’ was a short horror shot from multiple perspectives about a surprise party, but the pacing about the girl’s obsession with the boy at the end was humorous and the audience enjoyed it. ‘Little Things’ was a sweet, clay-mation production about a small robot drinking tea with a friend.It is exciting to see so much talent and enthusiasm from students in St Andrews, especially with the biggest number of entries since the Blitz began.  I should expect these films to go up online sometime soon, but don’t quote me on that. Even though I won’t be here next year, I’m still excited to see what comes out of the next Film Blitz - and I'll be sure to watch them on YouTube. Allison Morano  Photo credit: https://www.facebook.com/60HourFilmBlitz2015 and Fidan Kasimova  

Another Oscar Snub

Werner Herzog, currently one of Germany’s top directors, once proposed in response to the burgeoning academic world of film that, “Academia is the death of cinema. It is the very opposite of passion. Film is not the art of scholars but of illiterates.” Odd words with which to begin an examination of the 2015 awards season, but certainly words to keep in mind nonetheless.It is indisputable that the phenomenon, therefore most of the culture, of the film industry, has experienced a superficial drenching in a cultural revolution that only succeeded in creating several unspoken political rules to the situations in which those involved in the making of films can be officially lauded for their work.Though certainly the Academy Awards act as the most popular (though recent social critics might argue less prestigious) branch of awards season, despite a shocking lack of racial diversity in its current nominees, the entire Academy is far more political than the academy would ever like to admit. As it is made of actors who vote on the performances of their peers, surely people of shared experience will vote based on an overall story of a peer rather than the ultimate transience of a singular performance, if the performance is noteworthy enough to attract such attention – which usually, it is. Complaints have been lodged this awards season in particular over a striking lack of racial diversity in Academy Award nominees. These complaints are not inappropriately made.Digressing from this however, one so-called “Oscar snub” is particularly shocking. Claimed by leading film critic Richard Roeper to be “one of the finest actors of her generation”, perhaps it is this comment that makes Jessica Chastain’s lack of an Academy Award (and, in the case of 2015, an Academy Award nomination) most striking. Obviously, this seeming injustice could have nothing to do with politics, gender, or race. It could just as easily be the sheer factor of Jessica Chastain’s hair. It’s a known fact that fewer “gingers” (if that is the appropriate term) win Academy Awards than people of any other hair colour, racial prejudice or not.Julianne Moore, thought to be this year’s top contender for the Best Actress award for her role as a Parkinson’s patient in Still Alice, is nearly fifteen years Chastain’s senior, and despite having received five Academy Award nominations over the range of her career, has never won. Surely this is an act of ginger racism, though perhaps gingers themselves are not as commonplace and therefore relatable to the Academy. Seems like a load of juvenile hogwash, but either way, it is a complete insult to both actresses, and thus, the Academy that neither Moore nor Chastain have yet won an Academy Award. This year’s award season takes that injustice a step further.Though Still Alice is certainly not Julianne Moore’s best film (perhaps Boogie Nights or The Hours might be two of her best performances), and perhaps too cliché to be the best film of the year, it seemed inevitable that she would almost certainly be nominated for, if not win, the Academy Award.That certainty was clinched instead in the idea of Julianne Moore rather than this specific performance, and it is in those prospective “sympathy votes” that actors and actresses whose earlier, often better performances have been passed over by the Academy for veterans or socially ground-breaking newcomers, are finally allowed to win more for their body of work when the Academy finally comes to the realization that a far superior actor’s lack of an award is more noticeable than the otherwise front-runner of the year. Call it the “Colin Firth situation”.It seems more reasonable, therefore, that Jessica Chastain – who depicted a nuanced and subtle portrait of human grief in the misused The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, the personification of motherhood and grace in the ethereal Malick piece The Tree of Life, and a steely, dedicated CIA officer in Katherine Bigelow’s unrelenting drama Zero Dark Thirty – has yet to win her Academy Award. Viewers and connoisseurs of film can be assured that it will come. It would be unwise to watch this year’s award season with too analytical of an eye.  Alexandra Rego

'Interstellar': Operatic Fantasy, Ontological Reality

 Christopher Nolan is a director whose work traverses stimulating minimalist productions such as Following or Memento to more extravagant, but equally provoking, spectacles like The Dark Knight. Despite the slight misstep with The Dark Knight Rises, he remains one of the true visionaries working in contemporary mainstream cinema; Interstellar is another glorious addition to his film-making canon.Nolan’s gigantic space opera is one of the only science-fiction films – of the last decade – to portray such a realistic view of a postmodern dystopia. This is a world that didn’t radically change due to some alien invasion, intergalactic dispute or asteroid crash; this is a future where mankind is ultimately to blame. We are the ones that have brought ourselves to our own end with our hostility and carelessness. To add, this is also not a future where we must fight to save Earth;as Professor Brandt puts in in the film: ‘‘we’re not meant to save the world. We’re meant to leave it.’’ Afternumerous Hollywood films dealt with saving the world in ways that were all bound within the same ideological framework, this is a new angle. Nolan suggests that we must go beyond our own life spans and our home in order to find our salvation. Matthew McConaughey masterfully leads the spectacle as Cooper, an engineer-farmer anda widower with two children, giving a committed and startlingly moving performance. Through Cooper, Interstellar reminds us that we have always been explorers. From a young age, a child feels the need to explore unknown territory, which might often have harmful consequences. Nonetheless, this yearning to go into the uncharted is drilled into our humanity – and furthermore, there is a desire to understand what is inexplicably beyond our own understanding. In a way, this becomes a quest to ‘humanize’ the unknown in a metaphysical sense. Cooper’s love for his children becomes this humanist element that he takes with him into the unknown. This leads him to humanize the strange reality he finds himself in – one that he can’t understand yet.When discussing science fiction films, it’s often difficult to avoid drawing comparisons with the ‘holy grail’ of space-bound cinema – 2001: A Space Odyssey. Without going into too much detail, I will outline the key similarity – and the substantial difference – between Kubrick’s masterpiece and Interstellar. Essentially, 2001 explored mankind’s yearning to go into the unknown; however, it does so almost on a purely scientific basis. It illustrates that no matter how far we go at whatever cost, mankind will always desire to go further into the abyss.  Although some of Interstellar’s themes reflect this idea, its final moments contrarily reveal that no matter how far we go through space and time, we still remain human. This is a very spiritual idea – one that is magnified through the film’s theological depiction of love as the foundation and core of our humanity. It is an ‘artefact’ that transcends boundaries of time and space. Now, this may sound like sentimental trifle to most – and discovering any sort of theological anecdote is arguably implausible, for that matter – but all evidence points to this conclusion. In Cooper’s case, no matter how far he goes, he can never escape the love he has for his children. In fact, it is this perpetual love (particularly that for his daughter) which drives him. Furthermore, this love becomes the key to mankind’s salvation and Cooper’s own spiritual, and physical, liberation – as evidenced in the film’s pivotal bookcase sequence. These elements all cooperate to reinforcethe notion that evolution must come from within. Only mankind collectively can cause a change and bring about bettering development.The real trouble begins, however, when the darker side of the human element intervenes. Dr Mann (whom they encounter on one of the planets) acts as asymbol for mankind’s cowardice and the element of fear that can cause the downfall of even the bravest heroes. This aspect may seem predictable or clichéd, but his treachery is necessary in order to make the aforementioned points scathingly clear. To paraphrase Brandt (Anne Hathaway’s) character, ‘there is no great evil out there, it’s only what we bring with us.’ Therefore, Mann’s betrayal becomes – in a sense – one of the film’s defining characteristics. He committed all these acts for selfish reasons and self-preservation; this fear and vanity, juxtaposed by Mann’s egoism, is a pervasive element of the human condition. However, the decisive factor lies in our freedom; we can choose to act out of fear or love, separating us from animals and giving us what we call ‘free will.’ The line ‘only what we bring with us’ shows the downfall of man resulting from within, but in the same way, it illustrates that our love for others and selflessness also comes from within. It places love as the driving force of human existence, rather than just an instinct for survival. Love is the element we should choose to act upon; furthermore, it is one we inherently ‘bring with us’ into the vast reaches of space. Behind its dazzling visuals, operatic score and magnificently orchestrated action sequences, Interstellar presents us with an ontological creed and the manifestation of love as an artefact. The core of the film’s innumerable thematic ideas lies in exploring this state of being, especially through the nature of human relationships outside a societal hierarchy. Through a fantastical approach and scientific exploration of space and time, Nolan skillfully manages to carve this humanist and moving tale.Interstellar has received piles of controversy and criticism, particularly on its over-abundance of ideas; however, I’d argue that this is its point. It constantly challenges the viewer to go further, emotionally and intellectually, as is delivered through crafty storytelling, pioneering visuals and a thundering Strauss-ian score. Although I will admit there are equitable flaws regarding characterization, particularly concerning some of the minor characters, they are forgivable when considering how much the film achieves overall. Interstellar‘s conclusion ultimately shows that mankind’s exploration will never end, further acting as a metaphor for the endearing process of film-making. Méliès took us to the moon over a century ago, and as Kubrick did, Nolan continues his legacy by taking us through a metaphysical exploration of the cosmos.  Mina Radovic

Television Review: The Missing

The Missing is an eight-part drama on BBC1 depicting the abduction of Oliver Hughes, a boy taken while on holiday in France with his parents Tony and Emily, played by James Nesbitt and Frances O’Connor. The series explores their desperate attempts to find their son with the help of retired detective, Julien (Tchéky Karyo), and the consequences this has on their lives. Minds everywhere echo with the name of Madeleine McCann at such a description.Indeed, the story seems inspired, and its portrayal of such an incident is riveting and terrifyingly realistic.The programme opens with a hauntingly performed song called ‘Come Home’ by a Belgian post-rock band, Amatorski. It suits the theme down to a tee, especially as the singer breathes the words, ‘Oh my love, we pray each day, may you come home and be okay.’ The end of the song is intercepted by a harsh, high-pitched ringing sound that continues into the first scene of each episode. This sound also overlays the scene when Tony frantically searches for his son directly after his disappearance, as well as other moments with similarly heightened emotion. The distinct lack of score - except for minimalist sounds like these - is a noteworthy choice made throughout the programme.Many other aspects of a typical television programme are noticeably absent, which is a more complex reflection of its title. Subtitles are cleverly used to immerse us in Tony and Emily’ confusion after the abduction of their son, as detectives jabber away to one another in fluent French, sometimes translated, sometimes not. Furthermore, the way the plot itself unfolds is frustrating yet delightfully elusive, undoubtedly one of the best I have seen at bringing viewers back to watch each week. The plot development does not feel like a commercial drawing-out of a programme either, like what is increasingly seen in the world of modern cinema, where film sagas find it vital to produce unnecessary multi-part adaptations (cough, The Hunger Games); instead, The Missing feels tantalising, and we do not resent ourselves for wanting more. Every episode is left on the brink of another discovery that will fill in the multitude of gaps. Even in the penultimate episode, we have the beginning of the story, but the middle and the end are a tangle of untied strings, and it is only at its conclusion that there is a suggestion of a resolution.The actors are equally gripping. James Nesbitt’s ever-present grimace, once pointed out, is difficult to ignore, but so is the strength of his performance. Somehow, he manages to capture his character’s intense pain and grief, while also injecting a frantic irrationality that we as an audience simultaneously sympathise with and find frustrating. He is in direct contrast to his cool-headed and intelligent detective friend, whom we appreciate for tempering Tony’s impetuosity – though he also has his demons. O’Connor’s character, too, is one we must feel mixed feelings towards: we understand her desire to move on, of course, but also regard it as giving up. The writers skillfully add many dimensions to each character as the series continues, giving us more reasons to tune in and see what happens next.It was almost expected that the final episode would come as somewhat of an anti-climax, as it failed to emulate the standard it had produced throughout. The final scenes seemed far-fetched and unsatisfying, at least in comparison to previous episodes. What is to its credit, however, is that the series’ resolution produces doubt, as a result of the number of plot strands explored throughout the series. In the end, we become like Tony, unable to accept what is presented to us as the truth, and it is entirely worth watching to see what you yourself believe. The Missing is a series of cinematic calibre, and one of the best series I have seen on BBC in a long time.  Maia Gentle

‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’: The Reel Film Society’s double feature One Week (Cline 1920) and Dragnet Girl (Ozu 1933)

 The Reel Film Society is putting on eight screenings over the semester, focusing on youth, adolescence, and growing up. This first event, held in School III, was a success, with the entire lecture hall filled (which is more than I can say for the lectures I’ve attended there.) The audience seemed eager for what is in this day and age a novelty - a prerecorded performance paired with a live one.Part of the charm of the event was watching two films I might never have seen. The first film One Week, a short slapstick comedy and the first in Buster Keaton’s illustrious career, follows a young newlywed couple as they first attempt married life. Keaton’s work, like Charlie Chaplin, is always a crowd-pleaser and consistently had the audience in fits. The second film was Dragnet Girl, a Japanese film about a young woman and her boyfriend who struggle to reform from a life in a gang. As a graduating fourth year, I connected with stories of young people facing the challenges of growing up and settling down, a theme relevant to most students. Both films were a pleasure to watch, but the highlight of the event was the live performance.Composer Jane Gardner, along with musicians Roddy Long and Hazel Morrison, performed original scores for both films, and won the Silent London’s 2014 “Best Film Screening with a Small Ensemble” poll. Although I’m not a trained ear, I don’t believe any of the three missed a beat, even when Dragnet froze for a few seconds. Between their piano, violin, and percussion, the musicians brought out the emotions of each film and allowed an inexperienced audience to understand the tone of scenes that might otherwise have been confusing to a modern viewer. Before the revolution of the talkie, cinema almost always involved live musical accompaniment, ranging from a lone violinist to an entire orchestra. Most silent films available nowadays have prerecorded score attached; so modern viewers do not usually have the pleasure of enjoying a silent film in their original atmosphere. The night was a return to the adolescence of cinema.Their next event is a screening of Boyhood (2014), which was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture. The director spent twelve years filming with the same actors, making it an exciting cinematic prospect. The best part is, you get to see it for free! Join them again, 7pm in School III next Thursday.  Allison Morano