REVIEW: M-agination Film Festival

After sixteen years of existence, the M-agination Film Festival has only improved with time. Being at the Michigan Theater, the event felt more like a night at the Ann Arbor Film Festival than an evening of student-made films.

Actually, I think M-agination’s festival was better. Before the festival started, I noticed the number of small touches that made it feel like a full event. Not only was there free popcorn and T-shirts and the obligatory programs, but I also saw a photo op  area with the M-agination logo and posters of each movie set on the a table in front of the theater.  

Of course, the most important part about a film festival are the films. I was impressed at the level of production of each film. Several that I saw, such as Millenia and Anna Garcia Does a One Woman Play looked pretty darn close to something I might see on TV or at a regular movie theater.

The very first film, Cheater, was admittedly pretty superficial. One boy’s goal to cheat on an assignment any way possible, with the action escalating, until the very end when we find that the assignment was to write five things about himself. Simple, yet I was nevertheless laughing throughout the film.

Foodie Daddy was a fresh take on  the concept of a sugar daddy, but with food. Innuendo played to everyone’s predilection for sexual humor. The Little Grebe was an adorable animated children’s story about a bird with a message in search of a recipient.

Like many student films, however, the M-agination docket lacked the depth that you would see in award-winning films. The Ladies Room was a “drunkumentary” that capitalized on the novelty of following girls as they prepped themselves before and after a party. I really enjoyed the idea of the film, but I would have liked to see a little more of a cohesive story there. Perhaps if the filmmakers did a genuine documentary shot in a ladies room, there could be some filmmaking gold.

Low Expectations, an honors thesis in the form of a sitcom pilot and the last film of the night, followed three girls as they struggled through the trials of college. It was a good film, but it was also the kind of film that is almost frustrating because it could have been much better with a few tweaks here and there. As most student films go, Low Expectations was color-corrected like a Marvel Movie (desaturated and flat). There were several wonderful jokes and ideas throughout the pilot, but they felt too far apart. Alas, it’s still worth a watch.

I highly recommend watching a few of this year’s films. Hopefully they will be uploaded to the M-agination Vimeo Page soon.

PREVIEW: Lightworks Film Festival Winter 2015

Lightworks is Back! Do you enjoy watching movies?

Looking for a break between exams? Come to Lightworks!

The Lightworks Festival is a showcase of Screen Arts & Cultures’ student films. Presented by SAC’s student organization FVSA (Film and Video Student Association), the Lightworks Festival is the venue for students to present their end-of-the-year production coursework to classmates, family, and friends of Screen Arts.

Even cooler, this is your chance to see a variety of talented, visionary filmmakers before they make it big and you have to pay to see their work on the big screen.




Dates: Friday and Saturday, April 24 and 25

Where: Angell Hall, Auditorium A

When: Friday, 6:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m; Saturday, 4:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.


PREVIEW: Basement Arts Presents Captive Babries

If you aren’t familiar with Basement Arts, they are a series of FREE student-run plays and performances that typically run in the evenings at the Walgreen Drama Center.

This weekend you have a chance to see the production Captive Barbies, the Hopwood Award-winning play by Levi Stroud and directed by Leia Squillace.

The summary:

Captive Barbies is a fast-paced black comedy that explores the story of the anti-hero, Lee, a criminal that lives in deluded realities, as he attempts to escape the law after committing a serious crime. Along the way to freedom, however, his journey clashes with a love triangle between a (kind of) married couple on the brink of collapse and a closeted cop. His quest for escape becomes impossible as their stories become increasingly entangled and emotions and motives develop. The piece is a meditation on notions of maleness, masculinity, and the conflict that erupts between the true self and the performance of self while facing the restrictions of normativity.

Runs February 26-28
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7pm
Thursday at 11pm

All performances take place in Studio One of the Walgreen Drama Center, North Campus.


PREVIEW: Lightworks Day 2

Where: Natural Science Auditorium

When: Today 4 pm – 12 pm

What: Student films made throughout the semester

Film range from narrative to experimental, silent to noisy, black and white to explosions of color.

Hosted by Chad and Riley of “The Secret Show” fame, today promises to be as good, if not better than yesterday’s festival.

A selection of what you will see:
Your Hosts

Bad Girls


REVIEW: Lightworks Day 1

Aside from the lack of popcorn, Lightworks Winter 2014 was remarkably better than its fall semester counterpart. Not only were the films more polished, but his time the audience was granted the pleasure of actual hosts. The festival programs, were entirely correct this time around, and by the end of the first night, the audience itself was close to filling the entire Natural Science Auditorium.

The key difference between Lightworks and other festivals is that you often see professors sitting down the row from students, just as exciting to see the finished product as the student. Since these films were all made for classes, you can tell which class they came from by their nature.

Films from the 400-level classes are reserved for the end. These films—Toast and (?)–deserve their place at the finale of the festival because their production quality is astonishingly close to a professional big-budget film. Below this are the 300-level films, which entail the intermediate production classes. These categories emphasis narrative, are coherent, and overall films that you would feel comfortable watching with your parents.

Other films get weird and experimental and, in many cases, exciting. One of the best reasons to go to a film festival is to experience all of the avant-garde student films that display raw talent. When I say raw talent, I mean films that make you question what you just watched, yet you want to watch them again. Fancy animated projects manifested themselves as psychedelic dystopian computer work and kaleidoscopic aesthetics. There were also wonderful hand-drawn animations, of a dog disrupting Santa as he gets ready for Christmas Eve.

The animations were juxtaposed with live action pieces that leave you breathless. It is unbelievable the talent that is displayed in these films, both in the dancers moving their bodies on screen and in the plethora of editing techniques that make the films a psychedelic wonderland. They are a comedic, talented, astonishing.

A change from previous years is the influx of silent films. While seeing student projects made on real 16mm film is wonderful, last night seemed to alternate them with their sound-equipped video counterparts. In some instances this meant an awkward transition from a modern video to a more classical art-house piece. I enjoyed both types, but I wonder if it would be possible to separate the categories completely: all of the films in one section and all of the videos in another section. This way the audience could get into a certain mood for one or the other without constant disruption.

The hosts, Chad and Riley, have made quite a name for themselves. Veterans of the acting circuit and appearing in several of the Lighworks films, they made a name for themselves as a duo by appearing in The Secret Show, a quirky underground video podcast that premiered earlier this semester.

Like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, these comedians were a welcome change from the regular hosting by FVSA students. Keeping up with the fashion of reading live tweets during intermissions, they interacted with the audience and created an organic, relaxing atmosphere for everyone.

Small technical difficulties seemed to plague the projectionists. Since there were so many transitions between 16mm films and videos, the projectionist was constantly changing from one format to the other so the audience would often be waiting in the dark for longer than normal. On top of that, a few of the films were blown out to the extent that one could not tell what was in half of the shots. Most alarming of all as a trace of lag that I saw in a couple of the films. Since most projects are exported in high definition format, I assume the computer has trouble rendering them fast enough sometimes. At any rate, it was a disappointment to see impressive special effects lagging because of the very technology that created them.

To end this on a high note, I only need to remind readers that Lightworks is 100% free. This is a two day festival, over eight hours long, and you can walk inside with nothing but the clothes on your back. It was a pleasure to watch these amazing films knowing that I go to school with the students that make these films. As always, I recommend Lightworks to everyone.


A Couple Samples of the films shown last night:

Kickstarter Video for “George O. Duncan”

“Urban Canvas” Detroit Documentary

The Hosts

REVIEW: M-Agination Films Festival

Usually student films are envisioned as earth-shattering ideas that will shake the world, only to end up on Youtube or Vimeo with 200 views.
Events like the M-Agination Film Festival allows films to transcend this by showcasing a collection of these films on the big screen in the Michigan theater for a much wider audience, in the best possible way to experience a film.

Before I go any further, I will admit that I am a producer on the board of M-Agination films. I am one of the ten students who sorts through dozens of scripts at the beginning of each semester, choosing a handful of scripts that we like enough to produce.

Consequently, I might be a little biased. I may be more apt to appreciate the work that goes into these films, but I am also more prone to see the wide range of errors that student films can make.

Despite a technical difficulty at the beginning of the festival, M-Agination is one of the best student film fests, if not the best overall film festival on campus. Compared to student festivals such as Lightworks, the venue of the Michigan Theater is a thousand times better than the cramped space of the Natural Science Auditorium.

On top of that, the films shown this year were consistent high-quality films—you can go to this festival expecting enjoyable films all night rather than a collection of hit or miss pieces. While the festival doesn’t quite match the Ann Arbor Film Festival, it’s free and you get a free t-shirt if you show up early.

Now on to the films themselves.

There was a nice diversity of films: comedy and tragedy, narrative and experimental, ancient and modern.

“Pinkie Promise” was a classic feel-good love story about a boy and a girl getting together after promising to do so when they were teenagers. “696” takes a polar opposite approach of a married man lamenting the death of his earlier love.

“Dream Girl” was an experimental piece on the simple premise of a guy seeing a cute girl at a party, while “Initiation” dealt with the grim subject of hazing of college athletes. This was especially powerful because it added overt messages offering help to those who may need it. As far as I know, it will be used as a powerful tool to show to students experiencing alcohol addictions.

“Price of Art,” about two women stealing artwork to make the headlines and finding out that no one cared, was an interesting commentary on the status of the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The two films that truly stood out were “Calvin” and “Crook’d.” Not only were these films made by talented students, but they had professional filmmaking equipment at their disposal and Kickstarter dollars as well. With long steadicam shots, incredible sound mixing, and top-notch script writing, these films were phenomenal partially because they could almost stand alongside Hollywood films.

I have heard that this was one of the best years yet for M-Agination. If this festival keeps improving, then it will easily become one of the best film festivals in Ann Arbor, period.

Student Video