Thoughtful reviews, the Boulder film scene

Burt's Buzz

Sellout? Tool? Dupe? Better to just get to know the real Burt than to judge. —Marty Mapes (review...)

Burt's Buzz precedes him

" I always liked you Murray; you just sweat too much "
— Harvey Keitel[?], Copland

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According to the moderator at the Student Prints show here at Telluride, of the 400 student films submitted, only 6 films were shown. If those numbers are accurate and if the judges are competent, that means we saw the top 1.5%.

Granted, film number 7 was probably pretty good, too. And maybe #5 was chosen because it fit the program better than number 8. But still, it’s invigorating to see the cream of the crop. And for the filmmakers themselves, it’s quite an achievement.

... From the 2006 poster by animator John Canemaker
... From the 2006 poster by animator John Canemaker

Having traded business cards with some of the filmmakers (and knowing that they may drop by Movie Habit for a visit), I feel obligated to spread the word. So here goes.

High Maintenance, Phillip Van

Of the student films, the biggest crowd pleaser — the one that buzzed on the Gondola — is High Maintenance. Filmmaker Phillip Van told us before the show that he allowed himself only a week from pre-production to post-production to make the movie (mostly to keep the budget under control). “It was a busy week,” he said. The movie is well produced, with very good casting, lighting, and photography, but as in most great films, the writing is the strong suit. The film takes place on a couple’s anniversary. The wife can’t get a romantic evening out of her stiff and humorless husband, so she calls someone who can help her get an upgrade. The story is witty, surprising, and concise, and I won’t say any more to spoil it.

Wolves in the Woods, B.J. Schwartz

My next-favorite was also surprising and concise. Wolves in the Woods is a period piece set in a foreign country, but it was shot by 33-year-old film student B.J. Schwartz in Griffith Park. It’s not the writing that is this film’s strong suit, but rather the production. “It transported me,” said the moderator, which sums up Wolves’ success. I’ve seen many a student filmmaker try to set his movie in the past, and there are so many ways to screw it up, that it’s probably better not to even try. Sometimes the costumes look purchased from Target, usually the hair is styled completely wrong, and the actors don’t often even try to find the right carriage, manners, and dialogue for the time period. Not so with Wolves, in which four children (Schwartz found native speakers children to play the parts) — and one adult — play a game of Hide and Seek.

Cross Your Eyes Keep Them Wide, Ben Wu

One more director was here with his student film. Ben Wu brought a documentary called Cross Your Eyes Keep Them Wide, about an art space for the mentally retarded in San Francisco. And although documentaries about worthy causes are a dime a dozen, I actually liked a lot of the art that these people were making. Wu wasn’t completely invisible, but he was comfortable enough with his subjects that he was able to get very close and very intimate with them, particularly when they were working on their art.

In each case, these films were successful because they fit their size. Too many students have grandiose dreams of becoming the next Quentin Tarantino. They go for gangsters, femmes fatales, and matters of life and death. But in the 5 to 20 minutes of a student film, there just isn’t room for such weighty matters. Better to stick with something simple (and then edit it down to half as long as you originally planned).

So well done, Ben, B.J., and Phillip. I hope I can someday say about each of you “Yeah, I saw his student film at Telluride — I knew he was going to make it.”

  • Danny Lee Ladely: Hello Marty,
    Thanks for featuring the Telluride Film Festival Student Prints program on your web site. I was there and I'm sorry that I missed you. Although JP Gorin neglected to mention me, I coordinate the preliminary selection process for this program and have done so for the past five years or so. I do the same for the Student Academy Awards, by the way, and I've been doing that for about 30 years. Yes, we usually receive around 400 to 500 entries each year for the Student Prints program. Each entry is viewed by between five and ten people, a group recruited from amongst the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center's film savvy audience. They give each entry a numerical score and I end up watching the top 80 or so. I winnow them down to around 25 and send these finalists to a curator. Usually, the curator is Godfrey Reggio but he was shooting a film this year and consequently unavailable. His shoes were filled temporarily by J.P. Gorin. Most other years, I do an introduction before the first screening explaining to the audience this process. Unfortunately, J.P. and I didn't connect before the Saturday morning screening so I didn't get to give my allocution. Every year that I've participated in this program the audiences' responses have been most gratifying. Many passholders stop me on the street to tell me just how much they enjoyed the student made films and like this year extra screenings are regularly scheduled in the TBA slots. I thoroughly enjoy doing this job and I thoroughly enjoy going each year (I've gone for the past 30 or so years.) to the Telluride Film Festival. In my humble opinion, it is definately one of the most important and prestigious film festivals in the world. It is truly a festival for people who love film! September 11, 2006 reply
  • Joseph: I was just surfing the web after attending Telluride, which I do every year I can. I came across your site on a google search. Good of you to put up reviews of the smaller events.
    But, I believe there are a few errors in your summaries.

    (1)If memory serves, Phillip Van made his film in a week because of the rules of a competition in Berlin (the Berlin Film Festival) -- not because of budget. That was why all of the actors had German accents, if you recall.
    (2) BJ Schwartz said that he DID NOT find kids who spoke German but instead had the off-screen voices done by adults. That amazed me, so I remember. Also, it certainly WAS the writing of that film that was the star. It seems to me that all he had to do for the period stuff was make sure the costumes were right; it was in the woods after all. But the story, as Gorin (the moderator) said, was phenomenal: exactly what a short story should be. Not much dialogue (and perhaps that's why you say what you say) but the story was brilliant.
    (3) As for "Cross your Eyes" (Ben Wu's film), it seems a little misleading to call all of the artists "mentally retarded." Perhaps I'm hyper-sensitive because I have a developmentally disabled relative, but the term you use has come to be seen as a pejorative. More importantly: while it was unclear in the film what developmental challenges faced the individual artists, many, many of them were very high-functioning. In fact, one gentlemen drew cheers from the crowd for his incredibly intelligent take on his art. His problems seemed far more emotional than intellectual. In any event, if anyone actually wants to know more about the facility and the artists, they can go to: http://www.creativityexplored.org. (I got the card from Mr. Wu because I wanted to find out about getting some of the artwork).
    Sorry to be a busy-body, but it's in my nature. September 15, 2006 reply