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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Last Night: St. Louisans With 24 Hours to Make a Film Show Off Works

Posted By on Thu, Oct 2, 2008 at 10:14 AM

What you missed: A screening of ten movies imagined, shot and cut in 24 hours by aspiring local filmmakers, as part of the Diesel Film Race.

Where: The Tivoli Theatre, 6350 Delmar Boulevard.

Better Than: Watching the same clips on Youtube over again for the 40th time.

Jim Jarmusch and Darren Aronofsky can play up their indie cred all they want, the films that premiered at the Tivoli Friday night are what true underground cinema is all about. The Diesel Film Race, sponsored in part by Diesel Jeans, gives each group of budding Abel Ferarra’s 24 hours to write, shoot and cut a short film.

The filmmakers had only two elements that had to be included in their films to make sure they hadn't got an early start:

- Each film had to center on a bet. - Each film had to feature someone crumpling a piece of paper.

click to enlarge can_you.jpg

The concept is simple and familiar, but this particular project is fairly new, having just expanded out of New York two years ago. It's Film Racing's first year in St. Louis and even the competition's founder, Charlie Weisman, admitted that the number of entries were small. "It’s our first year in St. Louis, so hopefully we'll build on this," Weisman said between taking cash for his project's screening and explaining to people with tickets to see Choke that they didn't have to pay again. "Maybe we'll try for April next year and push it at colleges and high-schools."

More would certainly be better. With only ten entries, the runtime of the show was a brisk 40 minutes, which could be considered a plus because none of the films were of much quality, but it made the $9 entry fee a bit hard to swallow. Good thing Diesel Jeans ponied up for free soda and popcorn to wash down all those hard feelings. Good on ya, Diesel.

Now to say that the films were not of much quality isn't really a knock on the Film Racing project, the screening or even the filmmakers. This kind of thing is all about shoving a camera into an amateur's hand and giving them a deadline near enough in the future they won't procrastinate away their first step on the road to becoming the next Sam Raimi.

Several of the groups were admittedly, and fairly obviously, first-timers and their inexperience with editing software was especially apparent. "John’s Problem" by Two Stupid Kids, which was the story of their roommate's possible alcoholism, featured several fades in the middle of scenes. While the effect was somewhat intoxicating, it certainly wasn't intentional.

Film Racing is a competition so I must break some hearts here and engage in some serious criticism: Of the good, I'd give the best all around to "The Aftermath," which was made by a group of St. Louis Priory High School kids, and seemed like it. Anytime a movie starts with someone waking up pant-less in the woods and ends with the clothes thief name dropping Abercrombie while wearing every piece of clothing he's ever pinched, you know the good young men at Priory are involved. Full disclosure, I graduated from Priory and can there for can not be entirely trusted to be objective about their work, but I can certainly say it was at least among the best in the competition, if only because of the solid camera work and absurd energy.

In general, it's easier to enjoy these kind of shorts if they shoot for comedy. They usually end up being unintentionally funny in one way or another anyway, so it's best if you can pretend you meant to make the audience laugh nervously at your climax. That being said, "A Bad Night," by Roland Comfort featured some good dramatic pacing and a decently surprising twist, even if it was a little illogical.

"Sometimes you have to make sacrifices when half your crew doesn’t show up. That guy in the end of the movie was just hanging around while we were filming and he asked what we were doing." What people wont do to get themselves immortalized on the big screen at the Tivoli.

The crowd was family and friend heavy, but still didn't fill up more than half the seats. They seemed engaged by the films and responded positively for the most part. The winners won’t be announced for a few days yet, in fact, some of the movies should be online soon and you can vote for your favorite at, but that won't prevent me from handing out my own awards, so without further ado, the Last Night award go to:

Best Title: "Douche Cannon." Why is there not a band called Douche Cannon?

Best Special Effects: "The Psychic Queen." Sure the aforementioned "Douche Cannon" had some angels-sitting-on-shoulders effects and whatnot, but this confusing superhero tale featured a city in flames and the same actress playing two characters on screen at ONE TIME!

Most Inscrutable: "Killerstake." While this is always a tough competition in amateur filmmaking projects, this standout from UMSL stood above the rest in it’s strangeness. Extra points for the successfully atmospheric black and white cinematography.

Best Editing Mistake: "Comic Relief." The fade outs mid-scene in "John’s Problem" were good, as was the story continuity of "BET!" which director Ricki Connor admitted he had to butcher to get into a competition-length run time, but the sound sync errors in "Comic Relief" caused the most unintentional laughter in the audience, until the painful "Am I supposed to laugh at suicide?" ending.

- Brian Stitt

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