It is difficult for a film on a $10 budget to suspend an audience’s disbelief. But this past Friday, perhaps bravely, perhaps foolishly, some of Emory’s most talented filmmakers gave it their best shot for Emory’s 2018 Campus Movie Fest. Surprisingly, a significant number of them succeeded.
Campus Movie Fest, which takes place on dozens of campuses in the United States, has a simple concept: Any student who registers is provided a camera, audio equipment, a laptop with editing software and a week to produce whatever kind of short film they want, as long as it’s under five minutes. It’s a hackathon for movies, and, like a hackathon, it lets amateurs develop their portfolio and provides a scouting opportunity for companies. Students give their passion projects their best effort, they fail, they learn something about making movies or maybe themselves, and they try again next year — the whole process looks like a blast. There’s no barrier to entry, no cost to failure and a variety of rewards for those who succeed. On each participating campus, judges select 16 films to be projected on the big screen. Several of the successful “Silver Tripod Award” winners can apply for their films to be shown at Cannes Film Festival, with their producers and cast flown to France for the occasion.
I won’t cover all the films here — I don’t have enough space to do justice to each of them. Instead, I’ll go over the four best films of the night, the Silver Tripod Award winners.
Documentaries, which don’t need to draw their audiences into a fictional world, fared well at the festival. About half the films shown were documentaries, with topics ranging from how LGBTQ dancers incorporate their identities into their art to a film on Georgia’s largest no-kill animal shelter.
The two documentaries that won Jury Awards each highlighted the humanity of their subjects, but did so in opposite ways. The first winner, “Nian,” directed by Jiarong Fan (21C), featured interviews with Chinese Emory students about the significance of Chinese New Year. When most of them answered that it is an opportunity to appreciate family, the interviewer invited them to call their family. “Nian”’s bold and well-executed production choices facilitated the organic humor of family interaction and the occasional melancholy of being separated from that family. The film’s clean edits, static shots and uncompromising color palette of red, grey and white made it instantly distinct on screen. Its decision to primarily feature Mandarin with English subtitles lent it an auditory uniqueness.
Where “Nian” focuses on the commonalities of its subjects, “On the Horizon” by Aaron Campbell (21C), the other documentary to win a Silver Tripod, focused on the diversity of the experiences of black Emory students navigating both a campus marked by inequality and the rifts between the previous generation of activists and the new one. “On the Horizon” has no gimmicks, no tricks up its sleeve. It relies on the eloquence and intelligence of its subjects to carry it, and it emphasizes the individuality of each of its interviewees, filming them in different locations and from different angles. Each person featured is allowed room to express themselves, and scenes of their everyday lives are edited in to underscore their uniqueness.
Only a few narrative films found clever ways to overcome their limited budget and worked with the time constraints, but those that did were excellent. “Deja Vu” by Halsey Quinn (18C), which follows a young black woman facing a possible unexpected pregnancy, explored generational cycles of pregnancy, divorce and fractured families. The film is driven by the protagonist’s stream-of-consciousness monologue, giving it an emotional intimacy that the film exploits to great effect. It also uses abstract visuals, like hands messily finger painting and marriage certificates burning, to reflect the character’s anxieties about having children too early and her guilt over her own birth destroying her parents’ marriage. “Deja Vu” darkens its colors for scenes in the real world but leaves them bright for the protagonist’s reflections, emphasising just how vivid the past and potential future are for her. Its unrelentingly somber tone speaks to the production team’s justified confidence in their movie: There are no self-effacing jokes, references or crowd-pleasing moments of any kind. This film’s quality speaks for itself.
The movie that stole the show was “Housewife Horror,” a delightfully ’60s flavored thriller about an increasingly fed-up and unhinged housewife. “Housewife Horror,” directed by Leila Yavari (18C), has an unmistakable style: The film has been edited into the rounded, abridged aspect ratio found in footage from the ’60s, and everything on screen swirls in bright pastels. The film’s genius goes beyond its visual aesthetic, though. The directors and producers of this film made intelligent choices in disguising their meager budget. Not a single word is spoken in “Housewife Horror,” and the emotions and deliberations of the characters are shown entirely through physical acting and a few sound effects. This choice not only gives the film an artsy charm, but bypasses any jarring microphone consistency issues, which plagued other narrative films. “Deja Vu”’s use of a single monologue also avoids this trap. “Housewife Horror” leaps visual hurdles as well. The film’s use of montage to show the gradual unraveling of the titular housewife allows the film to reuse the same locations and camera angles under the guise of a cinematic device.
Similar flashes of inspiration and ingenuity illuminated the rest of the screening, and I recommend you search out these films on Campus Movie Fest’s website. This year’s films can be found here. That said, why watch when you can act – or direct or produce? Campus Movie Fest is coming back next year, and anyone can participate. Maybe give it a try yourself.
Editor’s note: All films created by Emory students are on Campus Movie Fest’s website under the Emory tab.
Design Manager Ruth Reyes participated in “Housewife Horror” and Senior Film Critic Evan Amaral worked on “A Third of a Dozen Angry Men.” They were not involved in the editing or writing of this article.