UC Berkeley Web Feature
Short films by students defy limitations of budget and training
BERKELEY – Once, making a first movie meant begging friends, family, and investors to put up thousands in cash. But thanks to inexpensive digital video cameras and desktop video-editing programs, almost anyone can make a film - even one good enough for Sundance. The prestigious film festival this year selected a feature-length documentary that New Yorker Jonathan Caouette assembled for $218.32 using iMovie editing software; director Gus Van Sant has agreed to produce a bigger-budget version of the film.
Beginning Thursday, March 4, the UC Berkeley community has a chance to sample a smorgasbord of what could be the early starts of future Caouettes. That's when the Pacific Film Archive (PFA) kicks off its annual Film & Video Makers at Cal series, three nights of student-made short films presented on consecutive Thursdays.
The first installment, "Undergrads and Underdogs," presents eight films ranging from six to 15 minutes long. They were made by groups of students in Spring 2003's Film Studies 28A, a documentary filmmaking course, and Anthropology 138B, an ethnographic film course. Although students were given little or no training in using a video camera or editing software, several of the films are surprisingly sophisticated.
The Anthro 138B assignment was to create a short film about something of cultural importance and significance. With their film "(in)visibility," students Sara Gambin, Marissa Hill, and Lea Jones took on quite a big issue. Their documentary scrutinizes homelessness in San Francisco, focusing on Mayor Gavin Newsom's 2003 Proposition N initiative ("Care Not Cash") which proposed replacing the city's monthly payments to the homeless with services. After a week of solid shooting, Gambin and her fellow filmmakers not only captured heart-rending footage of the sleeping bags and shopping carts that Bay Area citizens tend to ignore, they scored interviews with Tom Ammiano and Matt Gonzalez of the city's Board of Supervisors.
"They were both very willing to share their thoughts and feelings about the issues involving low-income and homeless services, Prop N, and the city budget in general," says Gambin. The team also went inside homeless shelters and talked to street people as well as residents who planned to vote for Newsom's initiative. "Most everyone we interviewed on the street contributed a new perspective and helped us to understand how political maneuverings impact homeless individuals."
With the addition of broadcast footage from contentious city council meetings about implementing Care Not Cash, the result is a professional-looking indictment of San Francisco's attitude toward its homeless — all in a fast-paced 15 minutes.
Filmmakers Anna Camp and Jennifer Looney interpreted the assignment in a more personal fashion. The subject of their 12-minute film "Breaking Loose the Reins" is Camp's sister Abigail, who in May 2000 was severely injured in a truck accident. As the camera lingers over Abigail's body, she talks about the horrific extent of her injuries, which have left her wheelchair-bound. A horse lover, Abigail is determined to ride again, however, and the filmmakers document her first attempt to get back on her horse, Rebel, with the help of a special chair-saddle and five friends pushing and pulling.
"Abigail was the ideal person to help the audience break free of preconceptions about people with physical challenges," says Looney, who graduated in May 2003 from Anthropology. "She was willing to expose herself through her recovery, and she meets challenges with bravery and dignity."
In the six-minute-long "Amaury par Gaia et Justine," film-studies major Justine Jones and exchange student Gaia Bidat capture an almost mythical beast on the UC Berkeley campus: a College Republican. Begun 10 days after the start of the war in Iraq, the film consists almost entirely of the political views of Amaury, an 18-year-old student from Paris who shed his liberalism during the 2000 Presidential election and now writes for the California Patriot, the campus's conservative publication. Amaury chides French leader Jacques Chirac's anti-war stance as opportunistic, admits Fox News "isn't that 'fair and balanced,'" and criticizes UC Berkeley's student protests for not including pro-war speakers.
"This piece isn't a complete portrait of Amaury's politics or personality - just a limited, but hopefully compelling, portrait of an individual at a moment of intellectual crisis, reflection, and self-definition," explains Jones. "Although his views might appear radically different from those of his peers here at Berkeley, I would suggest that they are born from many of the same anxieties that have radicalized other thoughtful young people in an entirely different direction in the past few years."
The other films to be screened on March 4 are "An Exercise in Denial" (Aaron Schmidt, 6 mins), which celebrates Telegraph Avenue's "Queen of Hats," fast-talking street vendor Moldavia Jakkola; "The Ebony Mama Herself" (Zeon D.V. Kitchiner, Marianne Laleuf, Violeta Foregger, 12 mins), about the transgender drag performer Tia Bloomingdale; "Tested" (Michael Wilkerson, 8 mins), about a student overcoming his fear of a life-changing test; "Account of March" (Naoya Kaneta, Yuki Kawal, 6 mins), a meditation on peace in times of turmoil' and "Uproot | Root Down" (Wun Yip, Sarah Pauly, 12 mins), about three Bay area residents who fought back when threatened with unfair eviction.
The evening of "Undergrads and Underdogs" has been curated by undergraduate students Amanda Golob, Moon Jang, and Veena Hampapur, all interns in a partnership between the PFA and the Film Studies Department. In their internships, a group of six to 10 students from film studies, art, ethnic studies, anthropology, and other disciplines learn the behind-the-scenes work of programming for the PFA and curating a group show, handling almost all aspects of the show: from soliciting student work to program design, writing film notes, and hosting the show.
On Thursday, March 11, another team of student film curators will present "Music, Story, Expectation," several short experimental works by UC Berkeley students; on March 18, student curators present an evening of documentary short films about the path from childhood to adulthood, made by rhetoric and journalism graduate students. Visit the PFA's website for Film & Video Makers at Cal for a complete listing of films and links to directions and ticket information.