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Best of York University Student Film Screenings

Posted by film On May - 9 - 2008

by Madeleine Sims-Fewer

So it’s that time of year. No, not the day the circus comes to town. Better than that: it’s student film season; when York, Ryerson, and Humber unleash a plethora of fifteen minute stories, docs and alternative films rife with string quartets and crying clowns (or at least one hopes!)
I had thought about reviewing all of the final year’s films from each school, with the help of painkillers and a hair vest to keep me awake. However, although student shorts give us insight into future talent, it can be nauseating to sit through one full night of screenings, let alone nine or ten. So, I decided to shed some light on the aptitude of the York graduating class (I am a little biased as I will be graduating along with them).

With three nights of fourth-year screenings one can’t help but wonder why the faculty isn’t more selective. But despite it being difficult not to doze off at times, there were many standout films from emerging talent in all three categories. The first evening produced few true gems, with too many fiction films based around quirks and twist endings, alternative films that I don’t believe the directors even understood, and unimaginative docs that leave a dry feeling in your mouth. However there were a few hidden treasures;
Chinese Watercolours, a “silent, hand-processed film about Chinese watercolour painting” by Frances Lai, was captivating. The film, shot in black and white, was filled with sensuous close-ups following rich brush strokes and billowing incense smoke. Lai was able to beautifully capture the essence of Chinese watercolour and create a meditative mood. I can’t help but wish that she had incorporated music, as it yearned for accompaniment, but otherwise it was fine work. Her second film, Red Envelopes, was a mystifying portrait of longing, and loss. In the experimental piece several people find a wooden box full of red envelopes containing a meaningful substance; spring onions and pins being two examples. Red Envelopes seems shy to really challenge the viewer, but it explores human need, producing a sensitive, pleasing outcome.
The Black Shell, by Matthew Nayman is a fiction about one woman’s search for God in a computer program she created. Her program is capable of creating every possible combination of coloured pixels and she keeps an eerie room full of the blank faced beasts, and watches for some order to appear amid the chaos. Matthew Nayman writes his female lead with a sense of insight and clarity rare to student films, and I was left with a sense of loss and fear as the final shot dollied slowly in towards the shifting colours, as the protagonist becomes lost among them. Again, the lack of music only drew attention away from the film and highlighted more awkward moments in performance.
The second and third nights saw films of considerably higher quality, and after a nauseating fifteen minutes spent sitting through my own film, wondering what people thought of it, I was able to fully enjoy the vast amount of talent that this year had to offer. Daniel Reis caught our audience’s attention with Brazil I Love You, made up of moments captured on a journey through Brazil. The still photography with anecdotal voiceover painted an eclectic pallet of emotions. Still on the Alternative spectrum Morning Will Come, by Pouyan Jafarizadeh was one of the most spectacular student films I have seen, and it is safe to say that this man is going somewhere. Through his use of poetry, juxtaposing animal imagery against the fallibility of the human condition, he draws you into his world only to spit you back out again feeling disoriented yet contented. His teasing description ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’ sets the tone for the metaphorical voyage to come.
Turning full circle, we come to A Pretty Funny Story, by Evan Morgan. A comedy about a father who witnesses his neighbour’s strange evening antics through his kitchen window. In retaliation for being laughed at, said neighbour breaks into their house, and instills an explosive device into their young son’s head, threatening to blow him up if his strange behavior is ever revealed. Though it sounds ridiculous, the film is rife with beautiful comic moments such as when the son, head bandaged and bicycle helmet taped on tight, thanks his father wholeheartedly for not making him eat his broccoli. Evan’s sense of timing as a writer is well developed, and although the film could do with some tightening, it was one of the most enjoyable of the evening.
The first documentary film to stand out from the grain was Consequencia De La Lluvia (The Consequence of Rain) by Maria-Saroja Ponnambalam. Shot entirely in the community of Barrio Antonio Jose, (Caracas, Venesuela) the film looks at the dynamics between the locals and their community leaders. The documentary was vibrant and humorous, while also drawing attention to the pride of the people, and their unwillingness to seek help for their poor living conditions. The pacing was perfect and the cinematography engaging; involving the audience in every story by crowding into overpopulated houses and stopping to rest with the guide on what seemed like celestially long flights of stairs.
Staying with documentary, Nicole Saltz’s Canadian Anus, “a probing analysis of everything butt,” is a high gear trip through the sphincter examining Canadian fear of this avoided orifice. The documentary splits its focus between Erika, a woman diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 27, and the taboo world of anal sex. Saltz does a superb job of balancing the humorous with the solemn and the result is touching and eye-opening. The final two fiction films worth mentioning were Partners, by Matthew Hotson, and Seize the Day by Symone Roper. Inspired by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz, Hotson wrote and directed Partners, a buddy film that follows Hondo on his first day as a mall security guard. Though clearly drawing on techniques used by Wright, Partners has enough narrative flare and originality to steer clear of being a ripoff. Hotson has an original writing style reminiscent of Columbo episodes with a sarcastic twist, and it’s one you either get, or you don’t. To wrap up my picks, Symone Roper’s fictional Seize the Day is worth checking out. The film, about a down-on-his-luck young man trying to support his ailing mother while flirting with petty crime, was sensitively written and beautifully acted.
After three exhausting nights, the York fourth year films festival came to a close. Hopefully, and I don’t doubt it, many of the directors will go on to show their shorts in other festivals, so if you didn’t catch them, keep a keen eye out. And remember, student films aren’t all shot in dorm rooms with screeching string accompaniment and melancholy circus performers. Nope, some of them have traveling shots through the anus and small explosive devices in the heads of infants.

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