REVIEW Lightworks Film Festival

As I mentioned in the preview, Lightworks is a biannual film festival put on by the Film Video Student Association (FVSA), showcasing works produced in students by Screen Arts and Cultures (SAC) production classes.

One warning to potential future festival-goers: dress up! I was lucky to be coming from an interview, so I walked into the Natural Science Auditorium in a shirt and tie thinking I would be out of place—only to be surrounded by sweater vests, make-up, and slacks. This is by no means Cannes or Sundance, but I was pleasantly surprised to see so many students dress up for the festival because, after all, it IS a film festival.

One more thing: arrive early! FVSA provides free popcorn, drinks, and other movie theater food to people that get there in time.

The biggest caveat for these kinds of film fests is that they are composed almost entirely of student films. While I was stunned to see such beautiful work from students in upper level production classes, there were also sub-par films scheduled into the program. By the same token, none of the films were universally terrible; one film’s audio problems ruined an otherwise good feature, a few films had questionable camera work that called attention to the operator rather than the images on the screen, and of course, instances of poor writing. Most importantly, these were the exceptions, rather than the rule to a wonderful (and free!) film festival right on campus.

I found out by the middle of the first evening that the programs passed out each night were terrible incorrect. What resulted was a roller coaster of films—some that were in the order of the program, and others arbitrarily sprinkled in or taken out. In one particular instance I was overjoyed to see a documentary about the homeless people living in Ann Arbor, but this came at the expense of a documentary about the Detroit music scene that never showed.

Many of the films are taken directly from the pages of college life. “Sublet” dealt with three college boys who sublet a room to a hot girl—hilarious and topical. “Quick Step to Columbus” followed the Ballroom Dance Team to the national championships in Ohio, and “The Great Escape” was about an attractive GSI who has to escape a frat house after accidentally sleeping with a frat brother. “College Town” was easily one of my favorites of the entire festival. Imagine the drama of Glee and High School Musical without anyone breaking out into song, mixed with a slightly more biting comedic feel, and you have “College Town.” Not only was the production value cinema-quality, but the writing and acting was spot-on.

Several films took the risky step of incorporating the fantastic into their storylines. After taking a few SAC classes myself, I know first-hand how difficult it can be to make anything other than a straightforward film set in reality. “Residual Dreams,” and “Grasp” were very different films with common themes of love and horror; these stood out because they truly pulled off the horror genre. “Cooking With the Stewarts”—based on the simple premise of a holiday special with several celebrity Stewarts, was absolutely hilarious.

Lightworks was just as good, if not better, than many previous film fests I have attended. No matter which film festival you attend, there will be a dichotomy of good and bad films, and the great festivals leave you with satisfaction. I came to Lightworks with few expectations of any kind, and after attending Fall 2013, I can say for certain that I will be back in the spring.

PREVIEW: Lightworks Film Festival

What: The Lightworks Film Festival

Who: U of M Students taking Screen Arts & Cultures (SAC) Media production classes that want to showcase their work!

Where: Natural Sciences Auditorium

When: Friday, December 13 7-10:30 PM &
Saturday, December 14, 7-11 PM

Cost: Free!

Michigan’s Film and Video Student Association (FVSA) puts on Lightworks each semester to show the products of films made in Screen Arts and Cultures classes. Movies will be shown in blocks, with every type of genre you can imagine: horror, documentary, sci-fi, and beyond!

The best part of all, the event is FREE!

Take a break from exam studying and check out Lightworks!

Here’s the Michigan Daily article:

Movie Screen at the Nat. Sci Auditorium
Movie Screen at the Nat. Sci Auditorium

REVIEW: Chrome Sparks, Man vs. Indian Man, & Solar Year @ The Blind Pig

I walked down the cold, windy streets of Ann Arbor at 10 pm, unsure of what to expect at the Blind Pig. Although I enjoy listening to music and my library consists of thousands of songs, I would never consider myself a music aficionado. Unlike my roommate, I do not divide and subdivide my genres into obscure genres like spacesynth and chiptune; and if my library was lacking in any department, electronic was definitely one of them. Fortunately, the concert was not only a perfect opportunity to delve into electronic music, it was an example of the atmosphere and people that also listen to the atmospheric sounds of the genre.

Before going to a concert I like to “research” the headlining artist’s discography, but not the opening acts. Everything about them is completely new and unbiased. Man vs. Indian Man’s gig was only their second time playing a concert. When Jeremy announced this at the beginning of his act, I was shocked: what Man vs. Indian Man (MvIM) lacked in musical innovation and set list, they more than compensated with stage presence. Lead singer Clavius Crates molded his style along with the crowd, picking up maracas and other similar instruments as he pleased, dancing and gyrating to the beat, giving and taking energy to and from the ravers in the middle of the crowd. MvIM’s music began slow and deliberate, then gradually increased until it was impossible not to be swaying and bobbing to the beat. Overall I was pleasantly surprised by the first opening act.

After MvIM’s performance, Solar Year was a bit of a letdown. In retrospect, their cool tones and lumbering sound would have been good as a standalone opening act, but they did not work well as a bridged between MvIM and Chrome Sparks. At the same time, a video of the palace combined with the repetitive melodies and voice modulations were effective—it’s a shame they performed when the crowd was energized.

Chrome Sparks simply stood above the others. When Jeremy stepped on the stage and played the first two songs I noticed two things: a confident stage presence and a polished sound. In my mind, these are the things that help distinguish an established artist from amateurs or up and coming groups. Each song was lush, complete, and complemented by a series of videos on the backdrop. As a film enthusiast, I was especially touched by the editing and how it related to each track. Clips from old movies, historical footage, bizarre shapes, funky colors, everything. On top of that were the lights working their magic and the crowd of people dancing to the beat. This was how you experience music. My personal highlight was when Chrome Sparks played their hit song Marijuana. So much energy, people, and music.

Chrome Sparks at the Blind Pig
Chrome Sparks at the Blind Pig

REVIEW: Monty Python a Treat on the Big Screen

Monty Python and the Holy Grail was first released in 1975 with a budget of less than half a million dollars. To this day I am baffled that one of Britain’s finest comedy groups was able to craft a movie that long ago, with a budget that small, and still have audiences laughing in the theater to the Knights of Ni and the Holy Hand Grenade. More importantly, Holy Grail is a classic example of a movie that relies more on content than bells and whistles. Instead, audiences can sit back and enjoy the ridiculousness.

Aside from being able to see an older film on the big screen at the Michigan Theater, one of the biggest treats of the film was Terry Gilliam’s commentary on lost animation footage before the film began. With a characteristically dry sense of humor, Gilliam describes the process of animating the film and where the creators found their inspiration. He explains that most of the images were lifted from an old book that contained nothing but the illustrations of bored monks in the medieval ages. Additionally, Gilliam’s emphasis on the amount of time and work required to redraw images for each frame reminded me of the toils of animation before the age of computers. Best of all, the pre-movie showing included an animation sequence that was removed from the film: Sir Robin’s animated introduction.

The film itself never gets old. Although most of the sketches contain underlying sexual undertones and scores of violence, the film never issues profanity or excessive sexuality. Rather than gross-out humor common of modern films, The Holy Grail relies on hilarious sketches such as the Black Knight (‘tis only a flesh wound!), King Arthur’s inability to say the word three, Sir Lancelot’s slaying of half a wedding party, and Sir Galahad’s “capture” at Castle Anthrax. Of course there is also the distinction between an African Swallow and a European Swallow. What is the average air speed anyway?

One thing I never noticed before in the film are the sweeping landscapes and well-crafted sets. Gilliam truly had an eye for what looks good on film and this shows especially in views of castles and dirty villages. Even the camera moves fluidly through swamp and forest as it follows the knights and minstrels along on their quest. Subtle filmmaking techniques like this make Monty Python and the Holy Grail not only a great comedy, but a great film.

A great example of Monty Pythons animation
A great example of Monty Python's animation