Young Film Makers at Cinequest (And Prop 8 is live streamed as a play)

Today I saw three productions – two at Cinequest, and one online. The online one was AFER‘s production of 8 – a play which takes dialog directly from the court transcripts of the prop 8 trial before Judge Walker.

I always fear watching young film makers first works. On one hand the age means we have more in common and I’m more inclined to relate to the subject mater, on the other hand often times production values make it a painful endeavor to watch. Much like amateur theater productions – you’re not going for the quality but rather to support budding artists.

I started the day with a film that felt like it was a college production, Cheap Fun. Cinequest’s guide begins their description of it with, “Cheap Fun is a comedic wake-up call, playing off the monotony of a directionless life.” However I found such a wake-up call was lacking. The directionless life made for a directionless narrative where the characters wandered through the night in search of amusement. With a large ensemble cast this proved problematic for me as no one character was interesting or compelling enough to hold my attention. It felt like I’d wandered into a party where I didn’t know who amongst the crowd was the host – who should be deserving of attention and who was an extra? Also after seeing L!fe Happens last night, it was especially disappointing that the only female character was written in a flat way that felt like a cliche more than a character. By the end of the film there was a bit more action and one character who ended up streaking through town proved the most realistic and ironically the most fleshed out of the bunch (Sadly due to the size of the cast I can’t remember the character’s name). Overall the plot felt to me like an attempt at the Hangover for younger directionless students, but the lack of a solid storyline other than, “let’s go anywhere” made it drag for me. There were some funny moments but it felt stretched out, and what could have been a solid short film ended up being a less impressive feature.

After that I watched the livestream of 8 (on twitter as #8LA) which was an extremely star studded affair. Judge Walker was played by Brad Pitt, David Boies was played by George Clooney, Theodore B. Olson was Martin Sheen and the opposition’s lawyer Mr. Cooper was played by Kevin Bacon.

(To save time on listing the talent I’m posting a screenshot of the program… )

Image

I knew the material would be powerful beforehand. Having watched the Prop 8 trial – excerpts from that really could be nothing but a tear jerker. Literally. Not ashamed to admit by the end I was crying. Dustin Lance Black added to the official transcripts by weaving in pieces featuring Jamie Lee Curtis and Christine Lahti portraying Kris Perry and Sandy Stier the lesbian couple who were two of the plaintiffs as they explain to their sons why they’re missing soccer practice, and arguing about getting take out. Seeing Martin Sheen say the words of Mr. Olson definitely made me feel like life was becoming West Wing, a rational response being the appropriate way to react to injustice. (I must admit, the policy nerd in me WISHES life was like West Wing). Overall all of the actors were incredible at portraying the emotion of the trial and watching and hearing the words over again brought me back to the uncomfortable wooden seats in the court room. I feel like using Prop 8 as source material is a double edged sword, while it has powerful and honest compelling stories illustrating the impact both emotionally and politically, there is also a whirlwind of emotions attached to it, so to make something that resonates for people who weren’t there and also for those who were requires a very honest production which everyone delivered on. I would love it if this was aired on TV in full as I feel it would do more to explain fight for same-sex marriage than almost anything (releasing the tapes of the trial would top it, but little else.)
Luckily for drama students everywhere – the script is available royalty free – so if you want a powerful production with strong characters, an easy to build set and a topical plot, you’ve got your play. I imagine what the Laramie Project was for me in high school, 8 will be for the next batch of young drama kids.

Returning to the film festival for another film made by young film makers I was a little apprehensive. With heightened emotion from an amazing cast and oscar winning writer – surely nothing could compare? Even worse, I’d met the actors behind the film earlier in the festival and enjoyed their company, so if I didn’t like it I’d almost certainly be asked what I thought. Luckily such fears proved unfounded. Percival’s Big Night was fun, quirky and engaging with a unique visual style that felt like the fly on the wall was on steriods with a steadicam, buzzing through the action while never being noticed and yet presenting the closest possible portrait of two roommates and two friends who come to buy drugs from them. Like Cheap Fun, Percival’s Big Night was about the young and directionless as they seek better – but it was refreshingly honest as it exposed the peacocking of the men as they at last minute shower and change shirts while concocting excuses to be alone with their crushes as well as the seemly snide remarks flying between the girls despite their deep loyalty for each other as they look out for each others interests.  The four characters had obvious chemistry on screen and the rhythm of the banter, camera movements, and story felt very comfortable. There were no cheap laughs or moments when I felt the action was directed towards the camera rather than the story which always seems to be one of my issues with student films, so I was pleasantly surprised. I was glad to hear during the Q&A portion following the film that they have left room for development and I look forward to seeing their web based extras. The characters were both fleshed out enough to feel complete, and yet layered enough to leave room for more, and I would happily watch future films of the same characters. Unfortunately unlike some of the other films I’ve seen this festival, my parents weren’t with me as I would be very curious if my enjoyment was increased from a general audience perspective due to being similarly young and in that early establishing phase of life post graduation that the characters were in. However most of the folks I got a chance to speak to after the film were similarly young and in the early stages of their careers, so I can’t speak with certainty on how it reads to other age groups. What I can say though is the film was well crafted and fun and I look forward to seeing future work from this cast and crew.

Beginning with this:

Percival’s Big Night’s Riku (Angelica Reeve) Explains How to Survive Assholes from Percival’s Big Night on Vimeo.

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