Last night, I was honored to be asked to be a member of the jury for the sixth annual Holy Trinity Film Festival. This festival showed 22 films from high school students from Brantford and the surronding area. Having never attended the festival before, I was a little nervous going in. Was I going to be stuck watching hours on end of Blair Witch knock-offs and cheesy films? The answer, surprising, was no. I was blown away by the talent these students showed in their films last night. Out of the 22 films, there were only a couple (which I will not name) that failed to impress me at all. Overall, the quality was amazing. I am happy to report that we gave out nine prizes last night (eight voted on by us in the jury, and the People's Choice Award), and that all the films that won were deserving in one way or another. I'm going to offer a few brief thoughts on the films that won, in case anyone is interested.
First Prize: Bitter Endings to New Beginnings.
In a festival full of dark, hard hitting films, Bitter Endings to New Beginnings was completely different in that is was a highly enjoyable comedy. An homage to the films of Charlie Chaplin, the film featured a character not unlike Chaplin's The Little Tramp (played, in perhaps the best performance of any movie in the festival, but a young woman), as he sees and a beautiful girl, and tries in vain to impress her. Set to wonderful music, and featuring a brilliant photography in black and white, the film was told in stop motion, and amazed me with its technical prowess. Although it was only my second choice, it was still a great film.
Second Prize: Melancholy Joy
This was, to my mind, easily the festival's best film. Shot in split screen, the movie tells the story of two separate high school kids as they go about their day, culminating when one of the students decides to hang themselves, only to double back and reverse the events later in the film. The technical prowess in the movie was amazing - the use of long tracking shots in the split - that were perfectly timed to each other, and completely in sync - blew me away. The sequence where one student hangs themselves was for me, easily the best shot and edited sequence of any film I saw - simply wonderful. The film also had a fine message - sometimes a little human interaction can make a big difference. Great filmmaking.
Third Prize: Second Draft
This was a film I had to fight for in the jury room. We all agreed on what the two best films were, but third place was a toss up between any number of films. What amazed me most about Second Draft was unlike almost all of the other films in competition, this was not just a movie that told it's story through music and images - but also through dialogue. The acting by the pair of students in the film was supreb. It's a story about two men on a park bench, when one reveals that's we there to kill the other. Why? Because the writer told him to. Neither know the writer, but they are bound by what he wants them to do. Then, part way through the film a "second draft" of the script is written, and the tables are turned. What amazed me most about the film was the fact that in five short minutes, the filmmaker told a complex story that was able to twist and turn itself around. A budding Charlie Kaufman is born.
Honorable Mention: When Did This Storm Begin
Many of the movies this year took the form of a "music video", and although we in the jury preferred to give the awards to short films rather than this format, we could not deny the striking imagery and great editing on display in this film. Many of the films this year did simple shots - mid range, flat shots - but this film played wth angles and pans and editing, and did it all amazingly well. This would not look out of place playing on MuchMusic.
Honorable Mention: Jesse's Angel
A fine film, that was probably somewhat overshadowed by Melancholy Joy for us in the jury, as both deal with the subject of teen suicide, and Melancholy Joy was for us, the more accomplished film. But Jesse's Angel manages to tell it's story completely and succintly in five minutes, and is a very technically proficient film. The special effect at the end - of the spirit or soul of the dead student raising from their body - is one of the single most striking images of any film at the festival.
Honorable Mention: Another Horror Movie
We saw quite a few horror films this years, and most of them tried hard to inject humor into the proceedings as well. But Another Horror Movie was different as it was a "mockumentary" about the making of a student horror film, that poked fun at just how cheesy student horror films can be, and had an interesting view of the filmmaking process. I loved it when the director got mad at his star from changing his hair during the shooting of the movie (although, according to the actor it "deepened" his character). A well acted, and very funny little movie.
Christain Values Award: Bowling Buddies
As probably the lone athetist on the jury, (it being put on by a Catholic school of course) I was nervous about this award, but Bowling Buddies was for all of us the clear choice. It was not the most technically proficient film in the festival (only after we gave it the award were we informed that the three young ladies who made the film had never done anything like it before), but was an inspirational documentary about the competitors and volunteers at a bowling event for Special Olympians. This film didn't exploit it's subjects, but treated them with respect. I hope these girls come back next year, using what they learned this time around, and make an even better film.
Healthy Living Award: Throw the Habit
One of the themes this year was "Healthy Living" particularly films that encourage teenagers not to smoke. There were not a whole lot of films that took up this challenge, but Throw the Habit was by far the best. Instead of getting "preachy" or guilting the audience, it told a funny story about a teenage girl who every time she lights up a cigarette, gets hit in the head with a frisbee that says "No Smoking". Highly entertaining, very funny and a film that played to its audience perfectly. I suggested we give a "special jury prize" to the lead actress who showed real committment by being willing to get hit in the head by a frisbee so many times, but apparently we were not allowed. She should definitely get some of the prize money the filmmaker got though.
People's Choice Award: Bill Erwin's Diary
Apparently, this won the audience award by a huge margin, and of course was my fiance's favorite film (cough lowbrow cough). It was an admittedly clever little film, that took the form of a Crocodile Hunter show, but instead of getting close to a dangerous animal. the main character tries to study "girls". Ends on an hilarious note as he tries to wrestle one to the ground, only to be attacked by the "pack", I enjoyed the film, but would not have ranked it that high.
I won't go into the other 13 films in the festival that did not get a prize, except to say that back in the jury room nearly every film came up in conjunction to one award or another. Overall, I had a great time being on the jury, and I hope to come back next year. Now that I know just how good the films are going to be, I cannot wait.