Long night, long weekend, short films

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March 2, 2007

4:12 PM

Temporarily losing the script may not have been such a bad thing for the winning team of the 24 Speed film competition.

p. “Forget the script. We don’t even need it,” said junior Syreeta Mack — director of the mockumentary film “Citizens Arrest,” which won both the audience and jury awards. After shooting one of the first scenes, an actor had walked off, forgetting that the script was in his pocket. By the time they got it back, the team realized they were better off improvising.

p. “It would take away from the fact that it was supposed to feel natural,” Mack said.

p. This was the beginning of “A Long Weekend of Short Filmmaking,” the slogan of this year’s student film festival. It kicked off Thursday, Feb. 23 with the start of the 24 Speed competition, where eight teams — twice as many as last year — completed films in one day or less to be judged two hours after the deadline at a Feb. 24 screening.

p. The following day, film director Paul Harrill spoke with students and community members about directing independent films. Following the talk, two of his films screened at the Kimball Theatre. The first film, “Gina, an Actress, Age 29,” won the 2001 Sundance Film Festival Jury Prize in Short Filmmaking.

p. The events concluded Saturday night with the “Cans Film Festival,” where 10 student films screened in Tucker Theater. Three prizes were awarded. “People,” directed by Pooya Jahanshahi from the University of Virginia, took the first place prize of $200. It was followed by “The Language of Loss,” directed by Paul Robertson from James Madison University, which took the second place prize of $150. “Treatment,” directed by College junior Peter Hershey, took the third place prize of $75.

p. The prize money was donated to “Cans” by the College’s film studies department.

p. “Definitely William and Mary is blazing the path,” senior Zach Keifer said.

p. Keifer ran “Cans” this year and three years ago co-founded the 24 Speed contest.

p. “People will see this film festival and they will hopefully try to recreate it next year,” he said. “Somewhere down the line people got to say, ‘You know, this is something valuable and we want to carry on.”

p. When Keifer decided to help out with “Cans,” he was quickly handed the reins, as leadership issues last year caused the festival to “fall apart,” according to Keifer.

p. “It was only like a three-hour screening on a Wednesday evening or something, and nobody showed up to it,” he said. “At the beginning of this year I sought out the Cans people and told them I wanted to join and help make it better.”

p. The increased number of teams entered in the 24 Speed competition this year was a result of both increasing interest and more equipment. The Swem Media Center now has nine editing studios, along with cameras, microphones and lighting kits available for check-out. Media Center Director Troy Davis hopes to expand students’ access to professional-quality tools by diversifying the equipment and eventually by providing students with grants to fund larger projects.

p. But he said the Media Center, which is currently supported primarily by private money, would need a stable funding source.

p. “Part of my job, I feel, is to expose students to … the whole process of constructing messages using emerging and new technologies,” he said.

p. Davis worked closely with Keifer to plan the festival, and he coordinated the use of equipment and studios for the 24 Speed competition.

p. The 24 Speed films screened in McGlothlin-Street Hall to a packed crowd of over 200 people, many having to stand in the aisles.

p. Harrill — who once turned down the opportunity to direct a big-budget film and now acts as a voice for “self-reliant” filmmaking — praised the turnout.

p. “Not everyone in that room had made a movie,” he said. “People were excited about what everyone else had done, and I think that kind of thing is really wonderful and contagious, too. It just spreads.”

p. He connected the rise in student filmmaking to the College’s growing Media Center and said that as people are exposed to more low-budget films, they will learn to appreciate stories told in experimental ways, outside the Hollywood formula.

p. Professor Sharon Zuber, who teaches a class on film production at the College, also credited the growing Media Center as the cause of the increased enthusiasm.

p. “It has shifted the center of gravity for filmmaking, I think, to kind of a central part of campus,” she said. “The students are getting really comfortable just getting a camera and going out.”

p. The 24 Speed Competition challenges team’s stamina and film making abilities. Each team toted around a camera all night. Some competitors faced difficulties — such as a camera running low on battery.

p. After writing the script, which they used only as a guide, Mack’s team set out for the Delis, where much of “Citizen’s Arrest” was shot. The main character, who takes matters into his own hands after he is rejected from joining the Honor Council, interacts with drunk, Deli-hopping students — many of whom were not acting.

p. Because the shots involved real-life situations, the camera battery was low and the Delis were soon to close, Mack’s team often got only a single take.

p. At one point, a Williamsburg cop car pulled up behind them. They stopped the officer and asked him if he would say a line, and he reluctantly agreed with the condition that he would say it one time.

p. “That was it,” Mack said. “The one shot that we got, we got it.”
The team finished shooting at 6 a.m., and they rested for an hour before starting post-production, a process that took until 5:30 p.m., with one short break for lunch.

p. Other teams found themselves in similar circumstances.

p. “I’m so looking forward to this — seeing this thing completed,” sophomore Mark Johnson, director of “Elevator Music,” said at 4:30 a.m. during a shoot. “I just need some caffeine.”

p. Editor’s Note: Austin Wright participated in the 24 Speed Competition.

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