The sign said ”Arizona State” when the car pulled into the parking lot here tonight, most definitely it did. After the films started it was clear that everyone was now firmly ensconced in Saint Sparky’s school for wayward filmmakers; creatives, artists and dreamers that had strayed from the path, recklessly permitting visions, contradictions and abstractions to invade their thoughts and influence their images. Often they struggled with conflict and consequence borne of belief, superstition and implication, secondary to their cognitive percipience. Every year the query is made, and every year it is rebuffed, assured by the ASU FMP faculty and staff that there is no magic hat from which the graduating class extracts a permeating theme they all must adhere too and incorporate in their films. It is only best to continue to believe that this really is all merely the result of the chill winds of time swirling through the psyche; the sensual susurrus of passion, the burning southern winds that fuel the fires of revolution, the gentle breeze of contentment and reflection. Holding out that this is all some sort of cosmic coinky-dink: what a particular class felt strongly about at this particular moment in the universal position of the planet. It is for this privileged opportunity and insight that my attendance to the ASU FMP capstone screenings has been essential and consistent for the last 5 years. Here are the films I saw in the order they were screened.
Pushin’ Weight – Written and Directed by Thomas Kitlas
After learning his ex-girlfriend is engaged, overweight Adam (Thomas Kitlas) plunges into serious despair and begins binge eating. A friend arrives for a timely intervention and some tough love. They decide Adam needs to lose weight and employ a few slapstick gags to help him slim down; punching Adam in the face every time he eats and unsuccessfully spotting for him as Adam has a near-fatal weightlifting mishap. Another pal arrives and offers more sound advice, helping Adam reclaim his self esteem from the serious deficit left by his own negative body image. By the numbers photography and by the book performances leave a film as filling as rice cakes; eat all you want but you’ll never feel satisfied. Final Take – Weightless.
Ablation – Directed by Edgar Hernandez
In a slightly off-kilter earth, Bruno (Jared Jennings) desperately pleads with his mom (Judy Carmen Gonzalez) to get a life saving heart transplant. Mom is reluctant to tinker with her ticker because the operation will save her life but leave her void of all emotion, making this slow going film all the more confusing, considering the cold asperity mom already exhibits towards everyone, especially her son. ‘Ablation’ takes a very timorous tact in trying to tell its tale; with the contrasting behavior of people of a different dimension vaguely conveyed in mild quirkiness and inserted idiosyncrasies. Final Take – Autologous.
Estranged – Written and Directed by Scott Adams
After their father’s funeral, Brian (Titus Covington) arrives at the apartment of his estranged, drug-addicted brother John (Michael Alexander) to gather a few items left by their dad. Their resentments for each other fester and boil quickly, as Brian quickly lays into his brother for his obvious and ongoing heroin addiction. John responds to his hypocritical brother by pointing out Brian’s alcoholism and utter abandonment. ‘Estranged’ is a very dark and dour film with intentionally despicable characters, exploring the myth of “familial bond” and the seemingly pointless, often self destructive need to maintain a toxic relationship with siblings. Excellent photography and superb performances by Alexander and Covington bring to the screen a tenebrous tale of dysfunction, death and rebirth set in an inescapable minimalist miasma. Final Take – Someone’s off the Christmas list.
Planting Seed – Written and Directed by Claudia Sharma
Scrupulous cinematographer Fairuz (Lilah Ruiz) is torn between her Christian beliefs and getting her big break in film by shooting a horror movie that glorifies Satan, death, Smart Cars and indoor plumbing. To impress the evil film’s new director, she has to create the greatest video ever made of her Church Special (?). But before Fairuz can deliver the goods, she has to make up with her singing centerpiece sister Yasmina (Rania Zeineddine) who accuses Fairuz of killing her unborn child (??) and being possessed by Satan (???). Pastor James (Stan Sessoms) demands that the two make amends or the there’ll be no Church Special to film, so Fairuz kowtows to Yasmina in earnest by shaving her sister’s armpits, drawing her portrait and reading to her. She completes the video and hands it over to the films heathen producer, but as she does, Fairuz thinks of Jesus up in heaven and how he is ever so pissed. She opts out at the last minute and makes Christian videos instead. This embarrassingly puerile predestinarian project pithily portrays the hyperactive hypocrisy that regularly runs rampant throughout the often absurd and sometimes sanctimonious faith based films. Entertaining performances. Competent photography and sound. Final Take – Whosoever demands limitations will surely have them granted.
Embrace – Written and Directed by Ashley Peatross
After the death of their mother, two brothers (Robert Cordero Jr. and Ricky Cubilios) struggle to keep their mothers tattoo shop open. Although younger brother Javier is already an accomplished tattooist, he disdains slinging ink for a living, desiring instead to be a serious fine artist. His older brother demands that Javier sacrifice everything for the sake of his family and his mother’s memory. A violent confrontation ensues as the family falls apart. ‘Embrace’ relies heavily on distinct and stylized cinematography, with well used wides and excruciating close ups. Despite the efforts of the talented cast, the story is left light and incidental, concluding in a desultory denouement. Final Take – Skin deep.
Traction – Written and Directed by Max Kurtz
LDS missionaries Elder Smith (Jose Martinez) and Elder Clark (Jeremiah James) set upon unsuspecting suburbanites, harassing homeowners and seriously stepping up their recruiting. As the two tract hacks meander through the neighborhood, the browbeaten Clark feels inadequate to the glad handing, alpha-Mormon Smith who’s been racking up the baptisms all week, while Clark has yet to score one Mr. Bubble for the Ox bath. The two are late for their district meeting, so Smith puts the kibosh on their activities for the day. Clark is having none of it, deciding today is the day he will speak up and do some serious soul snatching. The kool-aid guzzlers make a mad dash for the last remaining homes when a carload of angry LDS district reps arrive and demand that Clark and Smith cease operations and get in the car. While sitting in the vehicle, Clark thinks of Jesus up in heaven and how he is ever so pissed. He hops out of the car and completes his mission. ‘Traction’ quickly saw its own potential to tell a real and relevant story, and immediately shied away, lymphatically limiting itself to the late night viewing list for Family Home Evening. Great drone photography. Final Take – Second coming attraction.
Stitch by Stitch – Written and Directed by Roxanna Easley
On the day of Sara’s (Sedona Urias-Ramonett) Quinceañera, mom Anna (Angelina Ramirez) frets and fusses to help her daughters special day be memorable. That is pretty much guaranteed when Anna’s feisty (née bitchy) mother Constance (Sylvia Romero) arrives and wastes no time putting Anna down. Arriving guests and serious wardrobe malfunctions (that include a hot iron on green polyester) force the three generations to set aside their bickering and finally patch things up. Cute little film presenting a charming ‘day in the life’ story, seeking neither to illuminate nor to educate, but to simply share a memory. Great performances by the ensemble cast. Final Take – Woven well.
Four Millimeters – Written and Directed by Morgan Callahan
While practicing at the ice rink, Young figure skater Emily (Sarah Mann) takes a break to pee on a stick, while her equally youthful boyfriend John (Farrell Roland) anxiously awaits the results outside the ladies room door. The results read positive just as her domineering mom Diana (Heidi Carpenter) pounds on the door and demands that Emily return to the ice. She lies to her boyfriend about the results and skates poorly. At home her mom can tell she is distracted and advises Emily to get past her personal problems and concentrate solely on the championship. During another practice she hurls in the locker room just as brooding surgical abortion provider Irene (Colleen Balesteri) happens to be lurking nearby. Irene can spot an abortion candidate a mile away and advises Emily that she still has options, leaving Emily her business card. Whatever Emily decides, she knows she will ‘forever’ be ‘haunted’ by the ‘consequences’ of her ‘choice.’ It would be easy to dismiss this unnecessarily anti-choice film to the legions of other sinisterly subtle, bait and switch mala-fide that I have endured over the years, where it not for the superb filmmaking of director Callahan. Callahan maintains a numbing, frozen blue sadness in every scene, on and off the ice, with rare spontaneous bursts of warm color and light whenever Emily snatches just a moment of lucidity. We have firmly entered the drone-age, as cinematographer Max Kurtz deftly incorporates stunning indoor aerial photography for the breathtaking skating scenes. The serious props for this film have to go to Ms. Heidi Carpenter for her role as Emily’s ice cold skater mom; never telegraphing the dialog and coolly allowing the delivery of each word to command the scenes with thundering emotion. Dour and dirge-y soundtrack by Ethan Revere Smith. Final Take – Ice sculpture.