The 2012 season of the 48 Hour Film Challenge came and went in a blur. Friday night was the screening for challenge participants’ short films at the Alaska Experience Theater. My husband and I had a short cameo in one of the films so we giddily bought our tickets and prepared for our three seconds of screen time.
After the screening I can come to only one conclusion: I am deeply concerned for the mental health of the participants of the film challenge. Don’t get me wrong, for films made on basically no budgets and in less than two days from script to screen, they’re kind of incredible.
But when a bunch of grade schoolers are making gory zombie flicks and the people you thought of as your friends and neighbors are writing stories that include giant mice who can open refrigerators and eat cheese to a dubstep soundtrack, organizations that pre-meditate murder, and a treatment plan for shocking genitals with jumper cables to cure chlamydia. Well, it’s more than a little disturbing. That doesn’t even touch some of the more abstract themes that I can’t even confine to pithy descriptions. If anyone who saw Opposite Day has any idea what that was actually about, please let me know. I keep replaying the dude in the bathtub over and over in my head and it doesn’t make any sense.
I was part of Making Friends… which consisted mostly of standing around awkwardly for several hours and then drinking a Shirley Temple at the bar in the background while two actual characters shared dialogue. For my first foray into acting it wasn’t rough. I really committed to my character; I drank that Shirley Temple like I meant it.
Watching the filmmaking process was a new experience for me. There were lots of bungled lines, on-the-fly revisions and several muttered “fine, good enough” grumblings after re-doing a take for seemingly the 12th time. This particular project featured unpaid actors, iPhone cameras and one very patient bartender who allowed the use of their bar after hours. My husband and I met up with the crew at nearly midnight but they’d already been up and working since about 7 p.m. the previous day. And they still had a whole day to go to finish filming and editing before the Sunday deadline. The finished product clocked in at just over five minutes.
The thing about people who make films is this; they’re fearless. All the films I saw on Friday shared a commonality in this regard. The actors were unafraid to look silly or weird (or downright terrifying), the writers and directors presented concepts and ideas that were disturbing, dark, obscure, bizarre and a bevy of other descriptions that we haven’t invented words for yet. I still can’t wrap my brain around a world where everyone who dies becomes a zombie that then requires the family to hire Druid-esque hit men to bring him or her to their final death; but The Business was an interesting concept at least.
The thing that was especially cool to me while watching all these films was that most of them were really beautifully shot. Interesting camera angles where used, and the films were moody or bright or colorful or drab depending on what the filmmakers where trying to convey. On par with most of the art-house films I’ve seen lately, I think these shorts could easily become feature length films that stand up next to whatever weird shit Bear Tooth books for their Art House Mondays.
Walking out of the swampy, smelly theater Friday night after two hours of five to 10-minute apiece emotional roller coasters, I was a bit taken aback by how many of the people involved where already talking about next year’s films. They’ve just spent a weekend from hell putting together minutes of reel, spending their own money and cajoling their friends and family into helping out… and they want to do it again already?
Commitment to craft, folks. That’s what this is. And I’ve only talked about the filmmakers themselves so far. Consider event organizer John Norris and his contribution: he puts together the prompts and film titles, organizes and sets up the screenings and has to watch all those films at least the three times it took to show them in the theater. Lord knows how many times he’s actually watched them. He’s a tireless advocate for the local filmmaking community as well, offering support in his own sardonic backhanded way. He was in a film too, which obviously can’t win the competition but is worth a watch. If you want to see Norris in a light you will never, ever be able to get out of your head, the short Loose Load will do the trick. (Correction: Loose Load was written and directed by Stephanie Wonchala.)
I can’t wait for next year either, by the way, though I still think some of them need to seek professional help between now and when they start on their next script, and I’m not certain I’ll be inviting the masterminds/deeply disturbed souls behind Making Friends… into my home anytime soon.
Several of the submitted films are here, so you too can be equally awed and appalled.
(All photos courtesy of Kris Swanson)