Trolled Image

By: Morgan Young

A veritable mountain of Redbull, Twizzlers, and Pop-Tarts awaits students as they file into Princeton Film Productions’ lecture hall. Students of all backgrounds and academic interests have come together to celebrate and undertake the art of filmmaking. After a quick orientation, the assignment of teams, and the distribution of film equipment, t-shirts, and caffeinated snacks, Princeton students scatter, blood pumping with excitement and inordinate amounts of sugar. Their only mission: to create a film…in twenty-four hours.

Last Friday, Princeton Film Productions (PFP) invited Princeton students to participate in Princeton’s first 24-Hour Film Festival. Students were given everything they needed to create a short film no longer than five minutes. They could explore any genre and tackle any subject. Working in teams, students were instructed to write a script, film the footage, and edit their entire film—all from scratch—in only twenty-four hours. If a short film felt like too large a project, students could even submit a trailer for a theoretical film they envisioned as a group. To get the creative juices flowing, PFP also gave the teams a phrase they had to include in each of their final products: the flexible and stimulating, “Why does everybody keep saying that?”

Princeton Film Productions was founded last year, a student group meant to “appeal to people who…want to create something,” says co-president, Cameron Johanning ’16. With almost no opportunity for Princeton students to engage with filmmaking as an extracurricular activity, PFP wants to provide students with a new way to ex press themselves in the arts. Co-president Dalia Katan explains that the 24-Hour Film Festival was meant to “find a way to bring in the wider Princeton population and involve them in film production” so that people who had never touched a camera before could gain some experience in a new art medium. Students raved about how much they learned during their weekend dip into the film industry; PFP gave flash tutorials in screenwriting, directing, acting for film, and equipment use and remained available to answer any questions participants may have had during the full twenty-four hours.

Once the twenty-four hours were up, students submitted their final works and prepared for the Saturday night screening party. PFP arranged for a panel of Princeton University faculty to judge the films at the screening and award $600 worth of prizes to the films chosen for Best Acting, Best Script, Best Directing, and Best Production; the volunteer judges were Dean Janet Rapelye, Professor Michael Smith, Professor Michael Hecht, Shira Hecht, Jim Grassi, and Dr. Justine Levine. Audiences at the screening were called upon to choose the film that would take home the award for Crowd Favorite.

The ambition and creativity shown by the students in their final products were truly impressive. Most teams planted their films firmly in the safer world of comedy, a genre that favors short sketches, informal scriptwriting, and sometimes shaky camcorder filming. Nevertheless, participants managed to experiment with elements of many different genres including film noir, documentary, horror, stop motion, silent movie, and even the quirky genre of internet memes, a small team using their filmmaking opportunity to participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge. Some films were more successful than others, but all teams obviously put a huge amount of effort into their pieces. Once the screening was finished, the judges deliberated, tallied their scores for each film, and presented the chosen teams with their awards.

Above Two Lines by Ioana Ferariu ’15, Martina Fouquet ’16, Allen K. Williams ’15, Oliver Marsh ’15, and Hema Globin ’16 followed its own creative team’s hilariously desperate unraveling under the pressure of creating a film in just 24 hours. Many teams experimented with film festival meta, creating films about the struggle of creating films. But the Above Two Lines team’s admirable commitment to their ridiculous melodrama earned them the award for Best Acting.

The judges awarded Best Script to the sweetly simple and heartwarming Just Duet, produced by Nonny Okwelogu ’15, Michael Melesse ’18, Casey Kolb ’15, Cynthia Steinhardt ’16, Alex Geller ‘GS, and Francis Adu ’17. Starring team member, Casey Kolb, and Emily Whitaker ’15, Just Duet delicately spins the adorable tale of two pianists who romance each other with musical conversation through the wall between two practice rooms. The creative team chose to echo the silent films of the early twentieth century, communicating the piece’s few lines of dialogue with stylized intertiles. Just Duet stood as a testament to “less is more” at the 24-Hour Film Festival, proving that simplicity triumphs over crowded wordiness. Lift, which took home the award for Best Directing, is a lovely and poignant piece about an elevator conductor who celebrates his birthday by silently and patiently working the hotel lift for increasingly peculiar guests. Created by Spencer Rodriguez ’15, Don Wilson ’15, Nabeer Khan ’15, and Myles McGinley ’15, and starring a host of talented actors, Lift uses a plethora of creative filming techniques, including a dream sequence, flashbacks and voiceover narration. Lift capitalizes upon visual humor by setting up laughably contrasting shots between the many guests the operator encounters, switching from a snobby businessman, to two drunk bachelorettes, to a surprisingly amiable hit man. The guests’ stories are artfully told in parallel, and the Lift team was very careful to keep the pacing quick and smooth.

The award for Crowd Favorite came down to an impassioned cheer-off between the teams of Lift and Yik Yak. The two teams rallied their friends into screeches and songs in an effort to take home the gold. The deafening whooping, chanting, and dancing of Luis Gonzalas-Yante ’18, Fida Newaj ’18, Daniel Spruill ’18, Jeffery Saeteurn ’18, William Kelly ’18, Daniel Liu ’18, Duke Atalay ’18, and their friends won Yak Off the Crowd Favorite trophy. The short film itself was a huge success amongst audiences at the festival, leaning heavily into a niche of reference humor targeted specifically at Princeton students. The protagonist, as punishment for the heinous crime of reposting a Reddit joke on Yik Yak, is kidnapped by the trench-wearing, sunglasss-sporting social media mafia. They subject him to atrocious forms of torture, including the clanging scales of The Frist Piano Guy and the cheap, itchy texture of the campus bathrooms’ notorious one-ply toilet paper.

The award for Best Production justly went to Trolled, by Sam Chang ’16, Aaron Yin ’17, Robert Zhang ’16, and Logan Sander ’18. A brilliant amalgamation of horror and comedy, the short film follows a protagonist on his way out of Princeton who is relentlessly haunted by a miniature troll doll. Trolled’s ambitious and creative cinematography gave the short film, which ran less than five minutes, the polished feel of a professional feature film. One of the few films that used incidental music, Trolled had a sound that effortlessly built up suspense. Editing was precise and clever, a series of rapid-fire, one-word flashback cuts seamlessly spelling out the required phrase, “Why-does-every-body-keep-saying-that?”

Princeton Film Productions has proven itself a force to be reckoned with. The 24-Hour Film Festival was an exciting and rewarding commencement of a new annual tradition on Princeton’s campus. The festival is an incredible opportunity for experienced students to hone their filmmaking skills, or for novices to sail uncharted into a whole new artistic world. The film community at Princeton is sorely underrepresented and PFP’s 24-Hour Film Festival is an excellent means of gaining growing visibility and providing the community with an increasing number of artistic opportunities and experiences. As the festival becomes a time-honored tradition on campus, Princeton students will be sure to let the good times—and the film reels—roll.

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Through a Black Hole Darkly: A Review of “Interstellar”

Interstellar 2014 Movie Captures00041

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Spoiler alert: (There might be one or two spoilers in the following)

“We had an agreement. 90%.” These few courageous words heralded man’s defining achievement as space pioneer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) transcends space-time and pilots mankind’s ushering into a “literal heart of darkness”: a black hole. These words capture the essence of the entire film within a very brief exchange of dialogue. Its implications could also be the film’s central concern: the price people pay in the name of well intentions.

Cooper’s voyage into the star-gate, a psychedelic abyss that stows away the fate of a starving human race, holds more than Professor Brand’s dying words thought possible. The sweeping story of man’s ascent into the stars runs the gauntlet and never takes its foot off the pedal (or our throats for that matter) from visceral emotions and conflicting motivations to broken beliefs, and bubble-bursting actions. In essence, Interstellar is a cosmic rollercoaster ride with a mind-bending ending.

My first impressions of Christopher Nolan’s visionary science fiction tale could best be described as tantamount to The Godfather spoken in Italian-with just enough instances of the astronauts speaking the king’s to understand the emotional ramifications involved when characters are confronted with new revealing information that shatters their original, preconceived notions about how the universe perceivably works. But, as time will wont to do, doesn’t. So as not to spoil too many of those really juicy parts that people could have spent the price of admission for on well-cooked meats elsewhere, I’ll address those intriguing ideas I conjured upon reflection with my roommate.

The beginning was slow. Perhaps that was intentional. After the film picks up steam, it chugs along gaining speed, velocity and momentum until maybe we aren’t sure if even Nolan has control over this three-hour long locomotive. When the movie does begin to deliver the goods, the astronaut’s dense, rapid-fire conversations left my head swimming which was probably how Romilly (David Gyasi) felt after a mission to recover a beacon goes awry, and he’s left face-down swaying to the rhythm of waves blanketing a planet that could potentially house future generations in water. I also felt the beginning was improperly paced as the sentimental moments (evocative of the opening of The Exorcist before the real action begins) could have been done without. All the audience really needed to know were three things: (1) the world is running out of food, (2) humanity needs a new place for its attractive, yet degenerate race to call home—with Cooper as its savior; and (3) creating an emotional bond between Cooper and his daughter, and the very real possibility they may never see each other again which, in turn, raises the stakes to an unbearable degree. This could have been done without all of the panoramic shots of cornfields and images necessarily redolent of the Dust Bowl which followed the Great Depression and hitting home with obvious contemporary and far-reaching repercussions about the recent Great Recession. I think the audience would have arrived at these points with just a few well-thought out scenes.

If there was a time to “talk down to the audience,” it would’ve been during scenes such as when Dr. Mann (Matt Damon) provides the rational behind his deceit and later betrayal of Cooper and his team’s trust ending up in the destruction of a temporary space station and consequently Romilly’s life. During one of these impenetrable conversations I was able to make out “Einstein,” and maybe the writers Jonathan and Christopher Nolan should have read Einstein’s quote, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” It would have helped us who are uninitiated into the ranks of esoteric quantum mechanical lingo follow the logic of the story a little bit better.

Now onto treachery, the first instance being Michael Cain shattering the congenial expectations his person in a Nolan film brings up by confessing to a lie his character Brand orchestrates in order to get Cooper and company—real people who are biologically motivated to place a greater emphasis in and allegiance to family members they care for versus more noble values such as saving the human race—to sacrifice their reality in favor of his. (Interstellar may be like Inception after all). These ideas of how the ideal world is perpetually in contention with how the world actually works resurfaces again and again as these characters who literally feel the weight of the world on their shoulders “forces” them to cave under pressure, i.e. the definition of uncourageous—or plain ol’ pathetic—which is why I felt my earlier comparison to The Godfather on the grounds of similar themes was justified. As Cooper charges Dr. Mann on these grounds, I can’t help but point out that his namesake must be a conscious association with the carnal self-interest that drives him. My spill is that even though I empathize with the characters after originally having mixed emotions about Mann and Brand with my emotional pendulum swinging to that of hatred versus sympathy, it’s not acceptable to justify one’s immoral actions with that of good intentions. If these astrophysicists and astronauts could see that their actions would have proven to be inefficacious (though they ultimately are not), they would surely not have made them in the first place. (To deter for a moment, I feel like the controlling idea of Interstellar was the idea that humans will one day have complete free will, and autocratic autonomy to do as they please and that Cooper’s ascension into the fifth dimension expressed in thee dimensional shapes was indicative of. Therefore, if the cowards in the film had remained true to their ideals they would have saved mankind without sacrificing moral respectability). However speaking hypothetically, especially in a retrospective way, is a dumfounded approach and is much too simple to provide solutions to my readers about how to conduct themselves here on earth so that they may die peacefully, feeling fulfilled (and hopefully able to meet God in the umpteenth dimension). The best way I’ve heard my argument played out was by none other than Eleanor Roosevelt, “Connecting should advance, rather than compromise, your principles.” Sure, she may have been referring to networking, however it’s the principle once again that counts at the end of the day. And if people like Mann and Brand make decisions that compromise the integrity of the values and ethics they grew up to believe in which make up the fabric of their beings—the very principles like saving mankind encompasses—then everything they stand for and any fruitful products they may bring about will essentially be for naught. In economic terms, the moral costs will outweigh the tangible benefits.

I think it’s overdue to discuss another level of deceit I sort of implied earlier: the censorship of truth may somehow be justified if the people in power do what’s “best” for the people—with best being a very subjective word indeed. There are two kinds of deceit that arise: (1) that of the government supposedly faking the space program to plunge the USSR in debt and boost morale back home in favor of our decision to suppress communism, and (2) the professor’s decision to withhold the truth that he had the solution to the equation that would’ve saved mankind and send Cooper on an interstellar goose chase. Since all of the major characters in the film had seemingly good intentions, and every action whether I agreed with them or not brought about the emancipation and salvation of people, were they right in doing so? That may be a little over my head to answer definitively and I leave that to you, the reader, but I would answer quite tersely “no.” As far as the teacher (Collette Wolfe) at the start of the film informing the audience that the space program was a sham and the professor letting Cooper in on the secret that NASA was continued without the knowledge of the general public, I feel like the filmmakers are trying to say that power should rest in the hands of not the reigning bourgeoisie nor the people, but instead in a ruling elite of both intelligent people and those with enough clout and skill to bring about, by any means necessary, mankind’s ultimate divination as gods, or a race who will one day inhabit its future Olympus, either here or somewhere out there among the stars.

Film Critique by Chance Melancon ’18.