Student filmmakers stir dialogue at film festival
'The New Filmmakers Showcase' sparks conversation
On a crisp October afternoon, friends, family and collaborators sauntered into a small theater at Syracuse University’s Shemin Auditorium to view a two-hour exhibition of new young talent in film.
The New Filmmakers Showcase, the final leg in the four-day Syracuse International Film Festival, offered a selective collection of student work stretching across a variety of cinematic modes: narrative, experimental and animation.
Through a diverse and colorful range of storytelling methods, the films address an array of complicated cultural themes. The program’s curator, Vasilios Papaioannu, says a large part of what informs the selection process is the messages students choose to convey in their films.
What’s most important is “not only the technical level that the students arrive [at]… but also the complexity of ideas and how they can actually put their ideas into a cinematic language,” Papaioannu said.
Among the most compelling films to do so were Joe Blank’s Chewed, Lauren Wilson’s Touch Me Right, Isobella Antelis’ Blue Toes and JaLisa Arnold’s aptly named, The Dick Appointment. Each of these short films examines the human experience through lenses of gender, race and sexuality.
Affectionately described in the credit sequence as a “crazy film,” Chewed centers on one woman’s vengeful reaction to unrequited love. The film is peppered with irreverent commentary dealt by a Greek chorus of chewing gum that renders it tonally incoherent. But despite this, Chewed tells a deeply personal and affecting story that subverts the conventions of the Hollywood romance. Blank’s use of color and control of the camera imbue this quirky film with the solemnity to tackle heavier themes surrounding queer identity.
Touch Me Right
Touch Me Right was the only film chosen that was not submitted as a senior thesis film. That’s because director and SU junior, Lauren Wilson, was a sophomore when she made it. Wilson’s impressive knack for visual poetics, heavily influenced by experimental filmmakers, artfully comes together in this emotionally raw and topical 2-minute reflection on sexual assault and bodily autonomy. Using double exposure and extreme close-up, Wilson creates an exceptionally subjective and visceral depiction of sexual trauma.
Inspired by the life experiences of her younger brother, Myles, Isobella Antelis retells her sibling’s story in the intimate coming-of-age short, Blue Toes. The film explores a young boy’s struggle to feel at home in today’s cisgender culture. Antelis presents the story and its characters with a sincere empathy that is well-paired with her subtle direction. This understated film is perhaps the most emotionally compelling of the showcase and, at 11-minutes running time, accomplishes a great deal in its assessment of gender identity politics.
The Dick Appointment
Undoubtedly bearing the most plot-descriptive title of the program, the film concerns itself with one woman’s quest to define her own sexuality and “get her back blown out.” The film revels in black iconography and is filled with hilarious dialogue at the intersection of feminism and blackness. Arnold gives an authentic and multi-dimensional depiction of black femininity that, in many ways, resembles the cinematic stylings of Issa Rae. With The Dick Appointment, Arnold joins a growing list of filmmakers aimed at promoting black eccentricity on screen.
The film festival’s student showcase is a glimpse into the emerging filmmakers of tomorrow’s Hollywood. Industry recognition may already be on the way for student filmmakers Antelis and Arnold, whose shorts screened in distinguished festival programs in Los Angeles and New York.