This past Thursday evening, audiences were treated to a dazzling spectacle of cinematic achievement as 15 diverse films competed at the 13th annual Focus Film Festival.
The festival, which took place at Grant Hall, is a student-run, not-for profit guerrilla filmmaking competition that provides Queen’s students with the opportunity to explore their creativity and interests as filmmakers. Participants are split up into random groups and given 72 hours to write, shoot and produce a short film based on a mystery theme.
This year’s theme was “What’s your number?” Each group was tasked with interpreting their randomly-assigned number into a roughly five-minute film.
Following production and submissions, the films premiered at the annual screening where students, members of the public and industry professionals viewed each film.
The semi-formal gala and screening provided nearly all the glitz and glam of a star-studded, televised awards show. The night featured a red-carpet photo-op, industry professionals such as former Queen’s professor and alum Derek Redmond, Diane Brunjes and Peter Gentile and even a popcorn machine.
After the 15 films were screened, audiences voted for their choice for best film and the festival’s three judges, Derek Redmond, Diane Brunjes and Peter Gentile, took part in a question and answer session.
During the session, they dished out advice to aspiring filmmakers, commented on the quality of the films and discussed the highlights of their careers.
“I thought some of them were really sophisticated, very smart and I was really impressed,” Gentile said.
Redmond, who taught a Queen’s Film and Media course for 40 years, was particularly impressed by the ability to make a film in the just three days.
“It’s really interesting how these films made in 72 hours are so much better than the films students in my course take four months to make,” Redmond said. “I’m kind of kidding…but…”
Following the question period, the films competed for several awards. The three judges voted on their choice for Best Film while the People’s Choice Award for Best Film was decided on by the audience.
The films Cakewalk and Easy as Pi were the night’s big winners, walking away with three awards each. Cakewalk, a somber examination of post-grad life for slacker 20-somethings was the audience’s choice for Best Film and the judge’s choice for Best Screenplay, while prominent student actor and playwright Sean Meldrum beat out stiff competition for best actor.
Meldrum’s win was greeted by enthusiastic applause from the packed auditorium, although the actor was not present to accept his award.
Upon winning the award for Director of Photography for his work on Cakewalk, Joe Craib, ArtSci ’16, spoke on his experience with the festival.
“This is the fourth year I’ve done it and it has been the most successful one by far,” he said.
The judges voted separately and chose Easy as Pi, a murder mystery involving a widowed baker as this year’s best movie. The critical darling also picked up the judge’s award for Best Film and Best Editing. The festival’s first Best Supporting Actor award, meanwhile, was given to Jackson Fielding for his performance as an utterly oblivious and deadpan investigator.
Although the two films swept the awards ceremony, winning six awards combined, there were other equally excellent films that didn’t receive as much recognition.
The List, a film about a young woman’s attempt to complete a bucket-list before the apocalypse, was awarded best production design. The film was adroitly paced, seamlessly edited and shot beautifully — a tough feat given the obvious constraints of producing a five-minute picture. Consistently funny, with an incredibly heartwarming finale, The List was one of the most engaging and enjoyable films of the evening.
The dystopian thriller Subversion, which walked home with the award for Best Use of Theme,hadarguably the most creative storyline. With only a number as inspiration, Subversion’s cast and crew crafted a beautifully ominous thriller about a forbidden romance in a totalitarian dystopia akin to the works of Aldous Huxley or George Orwell.
There are more: Hannah Brynn gave a best actress-winning performance in the romantic comedy Tuning In. Although he walked home empty-handed, Blake Canning’s Smooth Operator featured dazzling cinematography and fantastic writing and acting. And the film Linger, which looked like it could have been a Hollywood production, picked up the award for Best Cinematography.
Writing, shooting and editing a five-minute film in 72 hours is no easy feat. Despite the difficulty in organizing a film production in 72 hours during the school year, the creative prowess and ingenuity exhibited by Queen’s student filmmakers was impressive.
The night was an impressive exposé of student filmmaking and a chance for aspiring auteurs to flex their cinematic muscle.
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