The annual student film showcase gets bigger and brighter

By T.T. Stern-Enzi

Photo: Ian Ashwell and Leah Byrd (right) in the web series Hot & Bothered, written and directed by Byrd

Just a couple months ago, I employed the bully pulpit of this space to preach the gospel of film shorts, promoting the stellar slate of films nominated for Academy Awards (animated, live-action, and documentary). “Big dreams and modest means,” I said, defined a group of filmmakers in the past, artists who “toiled away in obscurity.” And while that may have been true at one time, my aim with that piece (“Celebrating the Oscar-Nominated Shorts,” Feb. 7) was to spotlight a sea change in short films and audience reaction to them.

The rise of the internet has provided a distribution format that brings these films more directly to audiences, but curiously now, it has guaranteed that shorts are now transitioning back into theatres for feature-scale exhibition.

This year’s edition of the annual Big Lens Film Festival will feature the premiere of new films directed by students of Wright State’s award-winning Motion Pictures program. Past Big Lens entrants have screened and received awards at major U.S. film festivals, including the Sundance Film Festival. In addition, Big Lens films have been nominated for Student Academy Awards.

Celebrated regional filmmaker and Wright State professor Steve Bognar believes, “This is one of the most eclectic groups of films ever to premiere at Big Lens in the film festival’s nearly 30 year history. There are comedies, dramas, experimental films, and even a socially-conscious comedic web series.”

Hot & Bothered, the web series (the first two episodes will screen at Big Lens) from writer-director Leah Byrd tackles the collision of race and sexual identity in modern-day dating in a similar vein as the mature web series “Brown Girls” written by Fatimah Asghar and directed by Sam Bailey, which explores the relationship trials of a queer South Asian-American woman and a sex-positive African-American woman. Friendships forged in shared experiences define both series.

As we look to portray the myriad of diverse characters and perspectives, I find it fascinating, in the case of Byrd’s work, that there is a real, concerted effort to actually embrace the concerns of a straight white male as confidant and wingman for a black lesbian. Hot & Bothered perfectly illustrates how being socially awkward can bridge the cultural divide in hilarious and poignant ways, if we give it a chance.

It is worth remembering that storytelling, in the shorts format, is by no means easier. “Writing on these films began more than 18 months ago,” explains Bognar, “and they went into production about a year ago… Given that the average length of each movie is about eight minutes, it’s a testament to how much work goes into each movie.”

Student writer-director Eric Dickey takes on the challenge of basing his movie, “…He Didn’t Even Leave a Note,” on a short story by Gary A. Braunback, operating in a far more experimental vein with results that recall George Orwell’s “1984” merged with an episode of Twilight Zone. The black and white photography and production values (including a seamless bit of special effects trickery) weaves an otherworldly spell that belies the notion of this being a student film—or a project that could have been conceived and completed in a relatively short time frame. Such craft and vision speak to the potential of the class of dreamers whose works will be on display.

This year’s festival makes a big leap, in terms of exhibition. For the first time, the event will screen at the Rave Cinema 14 + IMAX at the Greene, in 2K resolution, which, as Bognar points out, is “the same technology that regular Hollywood movies do. That’s another big step forward for our Wright State film program, and it’s thanks to the tireless efforts of our new production faculty member Lindsey Martin, who is a filmmaker and animator.”

Seven filmmakers will be celebrated at Big Lens. They represent the best and the brightest lights on the regional filmmaking stage. Grab a ticket and a chance to see them before they start shaping the next frame.

 

The Big Lens Film Festival takes place at 3 p.m. Sunday, April 30 at the Rave Cinemas 14 + IMAX at the Greene, 4489 Glengarry Drive in Beavercreek. A reception will follow. Tickets are available at the Wright State Theatre Box Office. For tickets and more information, please call 937.7752500 or visit liberal-arts.wright.edu/theatre-dance-and-motion-pictures.

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Reach DCP Film Critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com and visit his blog for additional film reviews at TerrenceTodd.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @ttsternenzi.

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