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.