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 Film Festival

Going to any event at the Michigan Theater makes the event itself a hundred times more grand. Despite a tornado warning and wretched weather, the 14th Annual Festival put on the student group M-Agination Films was a smashing success.



Each year 10-15 short student films are created with the help of M-Agination films and the results are shown together at the end of the year. I have seen this festival for the past three years, and every year the overall quality of films has improved.

And live music now too!
And live music now too!

As with many festivals, the genres of the films varied: “Oreo Therapy” was about a man getting over a recent breakup with the help of food-related gifts from his hall neighbor, while “Awaken Ann Arbor” was a documentary about a meditation group of the same name on U of M’s campus, and “Dreamer” was a full-on avant-garde piece that I will not even attempt to decipher.

This was a full event, with multiple half-hour films–“Co-Education” and “A Sense of Sound”–to end each block of the festival. There was a nice mix of comedies and dramas to take us on a subtle emotional roller coaster throughout the night. “Looking Back,” a depressing piece about a young student reminiscing about his lost lover, preceded “Babysitter,” a hilarious comedy about a young teen jumping through hoops to get the title job, and then we went to the documentary “Awaken.”

Vice President Anthony Kalil
Vice President Anthony Kalil


The second half of the festival was much the same. We opened with “Fortune Teller Gynecologist” which is a comedy that needs no further description, on to “A Study in Tokyo,” which was a documentary shot during a class trip. The best part about “Tokyo” was that, despite being shot almost entirely with a GoPro, it was entertaining and edited well enough to keep the audience focused.

“Legs” was a groovy music video shot literally below the waist. “Three” followed three individuals with various disorders (OCD, Anorexia, Social Anxiety) and used images, rather than words to describe their daily lives. To cap off the night was “A Sense of Sound,” which was a lot like Whiplash, but with elderly people.

Overall, amazing festival and something to attend in future years.


Festival Line Up

Oreo Therapy Directed by Monica Dollive (4 minutes)
Looking Back Directed by Leo Sheng (7 minutes)
Babysitter Directed by Jameson Duggan (8 minutes)
Awaken Ann Arbor Directed by Will Ellis (11 minutes)
Hero Directed by Claire Holloway (2 minutes)
Co-Education Directed by Anna Baumgarten (25 minutes)

Intermission 15 minutes

Fortune Teller Gynecologist Directed by Michael Wylie (6 minutes)
Dreamer Directed by Layne Simescu (6 minutes)
A Study in Tokyo Directed by Rachel Goldberg (9 minutes)
Three Directed by Karen Hua (7 minutes)
LEGS Directed by Jorge Gonzalez (4 minutes)
A Sense of Sound Directed by Jeremy Borison (30 minutes)

PREVIEW: M-Agination Films 14th Annual Film Festival

M-agination Films is a student run organization on campus that runs similarly to a production class in the Screen Arts and Cultures department. Our goal is to help dedicated, creative students create their own passion projects.

Who: Students like you (possibly) and me, who worked on independent movie projects the past two semesters. They are presenting the fruits of their labor on the big screen for one night only.

Where: The Michigan Theater

When: April 9th at 7:30

Cost: FREE!

There are a wide variety of films this year, from documentary, to narrative, to straight avant-garde.

There’s a link to the Facebook event here


REVIEW: Lightworks Fall 2014

In case you haven’t heard of this wonderful (and free) 2 day event, Lightworks is the biannual film fest that showcases student films made through the Screen Arts and Cultures (SAC) department.

That being said, the norm for student film fests goes something like: most films are not immaculate, and the quality can range from good to pretty awful. Fortunately for us, U of M students consistently churn out films that are at worst watchable, and at best better than many Hollywood films (that means you, Mike Bay).

You can’t have a film event without popcorn, and the hosting Film and Video Student Association (FVSA) was happy to oblige. I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only was the popcorn free, but it had just the right amount of flavoring to enjoy the array of films in the Natural Science Auditorium.

This year was Nicolas Cage themed, with his image, quotes, and movies in every nook and cranny. I thought it was a step in the right direction, as it provided comic relief to the festival and helped group the films into categories roughly based on the titles of Cage films.

Last semester was a particular good stretch of Lightworks films and this semester was able to keep up the pace. I was extremely happy to see that a couple of the 300 level films (intermediate production level) were able to keep up with the higher level films. In fact one of them, Jessie Micallef’s “Between the Lines” was runner-up for best drama.

Furthermore, the independent projects truly showcased what students can do with autonomy. The winner for best drama, and my personal favorite of the festival, was Anthony Khalil’s “Old Stones.” A fictional tale about a son trying to win his father’s favor by playing shuffleboard at a retirement home, it was quirky enough to be a fresh take on the banal sports film genre.

I think the best part about “Old Stones” however, was that it never tried to be some esoteric analysis of the human condition. Unlike a lot of the upper-level projects, “Old Stones” didn’t attempt to go unnecessarily deep in the father-son relationship, nor did it waste time exploring the lead character’s fall from grace as an Olympic curler. Oh, and did I mention the gorgeous color throughout the film? Check it out.

“Cold Cut Comedy Shorts” was basically a live-action Robot Chicken. It was a delightfully incomprehensible collection of random shorts that drew laughs from the audience. The only fault with this project is that, like Robot Chicken, I was left wanting more.

Below is the list of winners from the festival. I recommend the winners from each category. However, one that didn’t even make it onto the list was Brian Collins’ horror flick “Closet,” which I was shocked to see did not even make honorable mention.

Ligthworks Winners
Drama: Old Stones, Anthony Khalil
Runner-Up: Between the Lines, Jessie Micallef
Honorable Mention: Nonna, Sam Gioia
Comedy: Cold Cuts Comedy Shorts, Joe Biglin
Runner-Up: You Can’t Sit With Us, Emily Browning & Jamie Dean
Honorable Mention: A Little Time Away, David Olonoff
Experimental: Easy, Alex Holmes
Runner-Up: The Golden Apple, Andrea Rivera
Honorable Mention: Time Space, Yunzhi Ou
Alternative Narrative: I’m a Wicked Child, Jingru Yang
Runner-Up: Pace of Life, Yihong Chen
Honorable Mention: A Flower to Pick, Jeremy Borison
Animation: Little People, James Reslier-Wells
Runner-Up: Living on the Earth, Layne Austin Simescu
Honorable Mention: Copy Cat, Sam Barnett
Documentary: Cooley Reuse Project Teaser, Jennifer Larson
Runner-Up: SALT, Phillip Wachowiak
Mary Lou Honorable Mention: Unsocial Media, Al Smith
Feroz Honorable Mention: Meta, Charlotte Lichtman
Josh Honorable Mention: Candy Ball, Yunzhi Ou

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