A dying ant, a mute superhero, and a korean rabbi don’t have much in common at first glance, except that they were each featured in films at Lovetts annual student film festival last Friday. Sitting in a plush theater chair, the hum of lighting and hushed conversation filling the room during intermission, I couldn’t help but wonder how students so young--all the contestants were 13 to 18 years old--had both the talent and vision to create all I’d seen so far.
The campus was deserted as I walked in at 6:30, my steps echoing on the linoleum floors. It had the eerie feeling of any place usually full of life has when empty and dark, like an abandoned water park or overgrown playground; the empty school was a dream-like mix of creepy and surreal.
Making my way to the theater, my senses calmed hearing music and conversation as festival-attendees grabbed raffle tickets and took photos by the “Lovett Film Festival” backdrop. I was set at ease by the welcoming scene, immediately forgetting how out of place I felt being at school so late; despite that the rest campus felt foreign and dark, the theater was a bubble of bright, excited energy as we awaited the films.
Audience members settled into their seats as the lights dimmed and the first film played; it was an animation called “Double Cross” about an intense basketball game. Following this was “A Song for Summer;” it told the story of two college kids, a crush, a heartbreak, and a song that wins the girl back. Despite the seeming simplicity of the film, the credits, citing technical supervisors, directors, sound mixers, and much more, put into perspective how much work goes into each film--again, these are no small feat.
Throughout the fest, there were creative films like a bizarre horror called “Mister Manticore”, a film on loss called “Lost in Time,” and one on mental illness and finding purpose again called “Soft and Golden.” There were also short documentaries about Nazi Germany, racial pride, and a female Korean-American rabbi. Being in Motion Picture Production myself, I understand the challenges of putting together films such as these, and it was incredibly cool to see what others my age were accomplishing.
Two of the aforementioned, “Mister Manticore” and “Soft and Golden,” were created by a student named Alex Casanas who drove up from Florida to see his films screened. Winning the prize for best U.S. animation (Mister Manticore) and the raffle prize (a $100 Chick-fil-a gift card,) his trip was clearly worthwhile. The two films, though incredibly different, both displayed his clear creative vision and obvious talent, being very well-edited, visually striking, and perfectly composed.
Mister Mantecore, a black and white animation featuring old 16th century drawings of disturbing beasts, intense and disquieting soundtrack, and choppy edits, was a concept wholly original and surprising. When Mr. Silverman asked him where the idea came for, Alex admitted that “it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where it came from.” Especially after a film is all done, he said that “it’s difficult to remember that there was ever something before it since it’s always built out of the process more than sticking to one idea.”
Digging a little deeper, Alex said it probably began with the realization that horror films had never really scared him, and a curiosity about what makes us afraid. “I began doing a lot of research,” he said, “and I eventually came across these creepy 16th century drawings. I just thought ‘these have got to be the strangest things I’ve ever seen.’” He then turned to a friend of his into music-mixing and asked him to “just make the most intense soundtrack that he could.” From this, “Mister Mantecore” was born.
“Soft and Golden” was a different story. Again, it’s genesis wasn’t entirely clear from the start; “I don’t really struggle with mental illness,” Alex admitted, “actually, I’m generally a pretty happy kid,” so it was difficult for him to replicate the point of view. “I’d just heard about it from a lot of my friends and knew a lot of them dealt with mental illness,” he said; “I think we’d be surprised how many people struggle with it behind the scenes, though.”
With the input of his friends and some beautiful shots of sunset, reflections, and a large red ant, “Soft and Golden” came into being. “I got a lot of outreach from people saying that this really touched them, so it was nice to see my work sort of having a positive effect on people,” he said.
Alex may have been the only one to drive up for the screening, seeing as he was only a few hours away compared to some contestants spread all across the globe, every film was the work of a near-professional, and all of the students were incredibly talented.
Though the work is difficult, Mr. Silverman argued that it’s nothing a Lovett student can’t do; it’s his hope that in the future he might have some more Lovett submissions. “I occasionally get one or two--last year I had a film from Dylan Shapiro--but it’d be really nice to see more of that,” he said. He hopes that the Lovett students will want to “get more involved and take some risks” in the upcoming years, and he’s “excited to see what we can do.”
As the festival finished two hours later, I was pleasantly impressed by the show. Walking back out through the dark school, I found it more scenic than eerie, my mind considering it as if it too were a film. Somehow, I found myself appreciating the empty halls and navy sky, wishing I had the talent to turn any of it into a real film like the students whose work I’d just witnessed. Though I might not be destined for the silver screen like some of them may very well be, I can appreciate their work, and I’m grateful I got to see it all that night.