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.

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.

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