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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

SunDeis in the spotlight

Published: March 9, 2007
Section: Arts, Etc.

I couldnt make it to either of the Lifetime Achievement Award winners movie question and answer sessions, but I hear that Patricia Neal had a lot of gossip to dish about actors shed known in the fifties and sixties, and that Roy Scheider is a really nice guy. The Scheider part was interesting;

the movies one knows him best for are two: Jaws, which causes my mother to remember something about a wet black t-shirt, a soundtrack and, oh yeah, that mechanical shark;

and All That Jazz, which makes me cringe because its a musical, if written by Bob Fosse. Neals major accomplishment besides being a really good, gorgeous actress whos won an Academy Award is a marriage to Roald Dahl, author of children's books including Matilda and The B.F.G.

The student films shown in the competitive part of the festival ranged from a short but pretty black-and-white 2-D animation directed by Sonia Lei from Dartmouth College called Icarus, to Ex Machina, a film about the search for information about the 20th century prophet, Jacob Sabato della Torre as well as an intriguing glimpse into the personal beliefs of the filmmaker. Ex Machina won best cinematography, best documentary and best music from SunDeis. It was the most intellectually stimulating film of the series and a lot of fun to watch. The director, Shai Davis, from Harvard, graduated with a double major in film and religion. Im not one for contemplating religion, but with Daviss movie, it doesnt matter. The rhythms, the seamless transition between animation, digital manipulation and archive footage something about the movie really rocked my socks. It may also have been that Davis seemed to have put the most thought behind his picturethere was a clear purpose to his film that was lacking in some of the other documentaries.

For example, Trevor Chamberlain from the Center for Digital Imaging Arts (CDIA, at Boston University, Moody Street in Waltham) did a sweet documentary called Castles of Sand and Water, about a woman who does professional sand castle building. It was interesting to watch the creative process of building sand castles I am one of those people who also enjoys watching paint dry but there was no real question behind the documentary. The cinematographer/director was trying to identify, perhaps even classify, this woman he discovered who spends most of her time in a pile of playground sand, building dreams. We get to know her and of her family life and background, but I dont think that the watcher really learns anything profound from the film. Chamberlain doesnt have the same sense of purpose behind his movie, or the same depth of understanding of his medium. Davis is a much more sophisticated investigator of something happening, instead of merely a reporter of what exists.

Also at SunDeis were two fiction-based movies of note, both of which were enjoyable for very different reasons. One, Hit or Miss, was a product of CDIA students David LaCarubba and Mike Ouellette, and won best picture from SunDeis.

I liked it mostly because it is a crowd-pleaser, appealing to a lower common denominator than Ex Machina. There is violence and the quintessential office humor that has become so popular since The Office made prime time television. Two men, working together for a long time in rather dull, dead-end office jobs, watch a DVD entitled Hit or Miss. The active character, Noel, is inspired by the film to become a hit-man. He places a classified ad on the internet via his sidekick Pete, and enrolls himself in something of a training program. There are many asides, and eventually Noel successfully completes his first hit. The plot is easily engaging, and supporting role of Pete (Harry Gordon) is excellently played;

I saw the film twice, and though the first audience was not quite enthralled (a few scattered giggles), the second group thought every twist, turn and sideways glance was hilarious. I think the film was the most viewer-friendly of the lot, clearly structured with a beginning, middle and end that were easy to understand;

the movie earned its Best of SunDeis award because of these features.

The other fiction-based movie I liked is Hunting Season, from CDIA student Ruben Calderon. The movie is based on a short story entitled The Open Window by Edwardian satirist H. H. Munro (Saki). The story, which is nearly impossible to explain without spoiling, is as marvelous to watch as it is compelling on its initial level, as a sort of ghost story, and after the climax of its second act, as a cruel joke. The film itself is shot as if it were a tribute to other films about Edwardian England, with the traditional soft, fuzzy, sort of remembrance atmosphere of the United Kingdom-based Merchant-Ivory films set about the same time. As a student filmmaker, Calderon obviously didnt have the budget to claim Hugh Grant from his obligation to Music and Lyrics, but it worked well with the unknowns used, especially Sandra Struthers, who was wonderfully dry and English in her role.

The last few worth mentioning were Shakespeares Monkey, a film starring Harry Gordon in another role for CDIA students, about a man who is nearly declared the new Jesus Christ by a chimpanzees typed rendition of the Bible;

Sick, something of a mockumentary, except not funny until the very end, kind of creepy the rest of the time and about AIDS;

The One I Love, from Brandeis (and awarded Best of Brandeis) and about the struggles of freshmen in college balancing faith, sex and the vagaries of the Brandeis campus;

and a short documentary called The Art of the Bean, describing a mans passion for the creation of perfect cappuccino in Cambridge. The last is most memorable for coffee-drinkers as, apparently, persons using plastic tampers (or going without any sort of tamper) before pressing the espresso button on the machine, are not serious about their coffee.

The festival is built for the film lover, featuring industry people as well as student movies, and is the place to meet people who have actually worked in the industry while safely within the bounds of the Brandeis campus;

outside of the movies I mentioned, there was a guest panel including six Brandeis alums, most of whom are currently active in the industry. Speakers included Jeremy Larner '58, winner of Brandeis's only Oscar, for The Candidate;

Ross Martin '95 from MTVu;

David Ian Salter '88, film editor for Finding Nemo (2003);

Donald Silvey '84, from Lifetime Entertainment's business side;

Clare Tully '80, an entertainment lawyer working independently in New York and Maine;

and Berkeley graduate Erwin Stoff, founder of 3 Arts Entertainment and manager of Keanu Reeves among others. No one on the panel recommended graduate school, except for Tully;

all encouraged recent graduates to move to Los Angeles (Salter wholeheartedly recommended the purchase of a motorcycle to combat traffic issues) and start working somewhere;

most blamed their success on serendipity, and all seem to be doing well in their respective careers.