“If it’s a good movie the sound could go off and the audience will still have a perfectly clear idea of what was going on,” Alfred Hitchcock once said. That was just the case at the University of California, Santa Barbara’s 22nd annual Reel Loud Film Festival, which took place on May 24 at Campbell Hall and served up a bloody good time —as promised by the event’s coordinators.
Reel Loud is a film festival put on by and for the students. A throwback to earlier cinema, all films submitted must be silent and accompanied by a live musical performance. Originally, Reel Loud started as a silent 16mm festival, but converted to digital this year for the first time ever. Festival director and one of the hosts Hillary Campbell, a fourth-year film and media studies major, said this change was considered by the department of film and media for a while.
“Once Kodak was no longer in business selling 16mm it was the last straw for us…16mm is an incredibly expensive way to make a movie these days…so we switched to digital,” said Campbell. “It made more sense for the students because it was more practical and cost efficient!”
This year, the festival showcased 10 films by UCSB’s up and coming student directors, accompanied by live musical performances. Additionally, acts by comedian Damian Holmes, The Urban Dance Company, and Naked Voices complemented the lineup.
The films ranged from comedies to dramas to the undefinable, and most were humorously satirical in one way or another. Given the demographic of their directors and production teams, the films seemed to reflect the lives of college students and their affiliated dilemmas, whether those reflections were magnifying overlooked, everyday occurrences, or acknowledging more obvious trials. The films explored and infringed upon the juxtapositions of love and loss, life and death, joy and sadness, and the mundane and extraordinary.
A walking bass line growled alongside Paula Ersly’s jazz poem “The Night before Reel Loud” as the audience settled into their seats. The poem was recited by D.J. Palladino, who is a writer at The Santa Barbara Independent, a director of IV’s Magic Lantern Film Series, and an advisor to UCSB’s student-run WORD Magazine.
With that, the night commenced with rhythm and style, and the opening film, written by Campbell and Corie Anderson, paid homage to this year’s Hitchcockian theme. It starred members of the film department and debuted film and media studies professor Anna Brusutti as Hitchcock, and scattered references to Hitchcock’s films, such as “North by Northwest” and “The Birds,” throughout the film’s running time.
Although only a few walked away with awards, all of the films were undoubtably entertaining, witty, and artistically expressive.
“Scouts,” written and directed by Derek Boeckelmann, was creative and inventive. Humorous and blood-stained, the film portrayed the anguish, frustration, and aftermath a scout endures after other scouts steal his beloved animal crackers. Just as entertaining and humorous was “Projections,” also written by Boeckelmann. Although many films flirted with mystery and suspense, the film fully committed itself to mystery and suspense as a young woman working the late shift at a movie palace, as stated by the synopsis, “encounters specters of the theatre’s past.”
Embarking on the concept of life and death was “Strangers in the Night,” written and directed by Dylan Taylor. Shown in black and white, the film used title cards to show the character’s dialogue. In the film, two strangers coincidentally met at the end of a pier, and the use of close-ups allowed the characters’ eyes to tell their story of shared pain, helplessness and epiphanies.
“Foolish Things,” written and directed by Vanessa Mares, shared a story of love and loss, as a couple reminisced about their relationship’s rise and demise. The plot illustrated the couple’s decision to either rekindle their romantic flames or accept the consequence of loss. The accompanying song, “Foolish Things,” performed by Tomas Pascali, helped the audience feel the joys and sadness of the couple, as Pascali’s pop and jazz voice, much like that of Frank Sinatra, sang, “…that’s why these foolish things remind me of you.”
Moving away from the concepts of love, loss, life, and death, “A Gentleman’s Sport,” written, directed, and produced by Justin Vea, presented two men in business suits battling head-to-head in a game of tennis, a sport mindful of proper etiquette. The film used tennis to mirror the rivalry and occurrences outside of a game and in real life.
Magnifying more mundane occurrences, “Brush,” written, directed, and produced by Boson Wang, and “Bring Me My Shotgun,” written and directed by Moe Derek, transformed the mundane occurrences and the angst of their characters into extraordinary circumstances.
“Brush” was a satirical comedy relatable to anyone who has wanted to just brush their teeth and eliminate their halitosis. The film showed a boy waking up in his dorm room, but prevented from simply brushing his teeth by some powers of the universe as countless occurrences work against him.
“Bring Me My Shotgun,” a black and white film, showed a man unable to sleep as dreams of a mystery woman haunted him, a problem he ultimately fixed himself. The film’s extreme contrast lighting and its garage rock and blues rock song “Bring Me My Shotgun,” performed by Walker Gibson, beautifully added to the already raw, gritty, and bold nature of the film. The cinematography was notable as it toyed with light and angles to take audiences through the delusions of a man trying to ease his restless mind.
Three films walked away with awards, as two films received two awards apiece. Before the award presentation, a donation was presented to recipient Jack Presnal, the head of The Community Film Studio of Santa Barbara, by Reel Loud. As the very first non-profit community film studio of its kind, the studio presents opportunities for students to work on, and receive credit for, legitimate feature films.
After Presnal’s acceptance speech, the Best Cinematography and Best Editing awards went to “The Order of Things”, Best Film and Audience Choice was awarded to “Birthday Boy,” and Best Live Accompaniment went to “Le Temps De L’Amour.” The judges were Presnal; Ameet Shukla, the Vice President of Production and Operations for Double Feature Films; Nadia Ismail, a UCSB alumnus who is working on a Master in Film Studies at Columbia University; Omar Najam, a writer and director residing in West Hollywood; Tom Sylvestri, a critically acclaimed story development consultant in Hollywood and TV; and Sahar Vahedi, a UCSB alumnus who is now an Executive Assistant at Double Feature Films.
“The Order of Things,” written and directed by Corie Anderson, followed Scarlett, a girl suffering from depression and alcoholism, and Sam, her ex-lover who coudn’t help wanting to save Scarlett from her misery. We followed the couple’s budding past and dysfunctional present relationship through the use of repeated frames, which provided consistency and conveyed flashbacks.
“Corie and I both had an idea stylistically of what we wanted to go for, but a lot of it was just coming up with shots on the spot,” said cinematographer Spencer Byam-Taylor, who is a second-year film and media studies major.
Anderson, who is a fourth-year film and media studies major, added, “I went in having a very specific visual style in mind…I also used ‘The Order of Things’ as a way for me to experiment as a director, when in the past I have only been a screenwriter, so I was very excited about making the film look unique…Even though I had ideas about what I wanted, working with Spencer was extremely collaborative. We did a lot of planning in pre-production together, but we also improvised a lot on set. He would say he wanted to get a certain shot and just shoot it. Those improvised angles were some of the best shots in the film.”
“Birthday Boy,” written and produced by Ryan Zwirner and directed by Chester Howie, was a dramatic comedy about a man whose birthday started off great; however, it quickly spiraled into the worst birthday ever.
“Everyone has had a bad day,” commented Zwirner, a fourth-year film and media studies major, on the inspiration for the film.
Many of the other films had ambiguous endings, allowing the viewer to completely guess what would happen next. Although “Birthday Boy” also ended ambiguously, it culminated in a way that allowed the viewer to infer subsequent events more precisely. Zwirner credits this ending to one of the producers, Matt Schneider. Schneider suggested a more ambiguous ending because Zwirner’s original ending, he felt, may have been too dark and off-putting for some people.
“I have a really dark sense of humor, but he made a good point so we made the changes,” said Zwirner, a fourth-year film and media studies major.
In regard to their double win, “To get Audience Choice and Best Film is a dream come true,” said Zwirner. “It’s great to have all your hard work pay off. I’m glad people liked it and all the effort we put in.”
“Let Temps De L’Amour,” written by Anderson Ko and directed by both Ko and Ashley Armitage, is a blood-stained, Quentin Tarantino-esque film. Ko’s film showed how two psychotic killers met, and what happened when they fell in love. The film incorporated a merciless and unrestrained use and display of blood, giving a comic book spin to the visuals while offering realism, all wrapped up with a twist ending. Music performed by The Grave Diggers perfectly matched the two blood-enthralled lovers’ killing sprees. The onstage, off-screen music in the film won Best Musical Accompaniment, as The Grave Diggers’ cover of “Bang Bang” by Nancy Sinatra and “Le Temps De L’Amour” by Francoise Hardy gave the perfect splash of garage, psychedelic and pop rock to the crimson path the lovers walk on.
The Grave Diggers are a local group of UCSB students, including Evan Perlman (bassist and pianist), Kris Pitzek (drummer), Justin huntsman (bass and sitar), and Marie Stassinopoulos (guitar and vocals).
“Actually, we’re not a band at all,” said Perlman, second-year environmental studies and economic major. Perlman elaborated that they were asked to perform by their friend Alexandra Muckle, who produced the film, so he and some musician friends got together to practice. The band commented after receiving the award that, “It feels good—really, really freaking good [to win].”
With that, the elated award recipients and fellow film enthusiasts made their way to the after-party to celebrate.
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