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.
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.”