Focus Film Festival a “jukebox” of short films

Student speed-filmaking presents thirteen films ranging from comedy to horror

Focus Film Festival
The closing gala attracted a respectable crowd.

The Focus Film Festival is simple: 13 student teams are given 72 hours to write, produce and edit a short film based on a theme revealed at the beginning of a three-day period.

On Feb. 1, a packed audience saw the results as the films debuted at the festival’s annual gala at The Bader Centre.

This year’s theme, Focus Jukebox, required each team to create a film based on a popular song, which was designated to them prior to the competition period. Varying in artists from The Clash to Taylor Swift, these songs were featured at the end of of each film as the credits rolled. 

While the jukebox theme ensured a diversity of screenplays and original content, certain motifs — such as student life and roommate drama — dominated several of the films.

Straight A’s, whose theme was “Dirty Little Secret” by the All American Rejects, detailed a student’s discovery of her roommate’s affair with their TA. Similarly, in Writings on the Wall, featuring Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” as its theme, the protagonist discovers his roommate is running a satanic cult in their basement, hyperbolizing the common fear of getting a bad roommate.

Festival films Happy Together and The Worst Case used comedy to capture other roommate conflicts, such as boyfriend approval and the effects of drinking too much on a night out.  

While comedy was the ruling genre of the films, Again, using “Time Warp” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, aimed for horror and told the story of a psychopath who keeps his female victim hostage by pretending to care for her after a car accident.

The Writer, challenged with incorporating “I Knew You Were Trouble” by Taylor Swift as its theme, aimed for darker content, tackling the relationship between creativity and drug abuse in a story about a young writer who turns to drugs to speed up her success in the publishing business.  

An awards ceremony followed the several screenings that debuted on Thursday night, doling out certificates in 14 categories, such as Best Cinematography for The Writer and Best Use of Theme for Again. Police Cops 2, featuring “How to Save a Life” by The Fray, stood out in particular, winning Best Screenplay, Best Production Design and Best Supporting Actress. 

The gala featured a small red carpet. (Photo by Julia Balakrishnan)

Imitating big screen films like 21 Jump Street and Let’s Be Cops, student film Police Cops 2 featured two unorthodox police officers with humourous chemistry that won over the audience with a People’s Choice Award.

Police Cops 2, however, couldn’t outshine Forgiven, the winner of Best Picture. With “The One That Got Away” by Katy Perry as its theme, Forgiven — which also won Best Use of Sound – centred on a young couple’s toxic relationship that resulted in murder.

With a total absence of dialogue, Forgiven relies purely on muffled audio, skillful cinematography and the actors’ own abilities to create a winning project, an impressive feat considering the short filming period.

Each year, the Kingston Canadian Film Festival chooses one Focus Festival film to screen at their event. The audience’s constant laughter sealed the deal for the highly entertaining The Way It Isn’t, whose theme was “Wannabe” by The Spice Girls.

Poking fun at the stereotype of millennial sexual fluency, The Way It Isn’t tells the story of a young man’s misinterpretation of his girlfriend’s wish that he “get with” her friends before they spice things up in their relationship.

The boyfriend, played by David Vassos, ArtSci ‘20, believes he must sleep with all of his girlfriend’s mates, but his awkward seduction techniques only manage to creep them out and end his relationship. 

Despite the challenges of such a quick turnaround and restrictive themes, each of the films this year succeeded in gaining a positive audience response and creating a unique story.

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