For the third year in a row, Strangewaze represented at the 48 Hour Film Project Chicago, as I returned again to the lineup of judges.
Each year, teams around the world (I mean, look at this list) must write, produce, cast, shoot, and edit an entire short film in a single weekend. All teams must incorporate a specific line of dialogue, a character of a certain name and profession, and a specific spot. Additionally, each team receives a genre to which they must adhere. To complicate things even more, participants have no idea of their genre, dialogue, character or prop requirements until the Friday night kickoff, and all films and paperwork must be completed and handed over by Sunday evening.
This year, each film had to have a character named either Ryan or Rachel Hammersmith who must be a pest control professional, each film had to use the lie of dialogue, “Where did you get that?” and had to use a manilla envelope as a prop, and make it work within their assigned genre.
The teams brought their a-games, with films that arrived at my door a few days later on a thumb drive ranging from the revenge of a robotic housekeeper to heartfelt confessions on a porn set to daydrinking to the power dynamics between a woman and her cat.
In years past, I’ve noted the rather homogenous crowd of participants at this event, with most of the directors being white and male, and mostly casting white people. But, let it be said, this year, I found it extremely positive to see the needle moved a bit here. Most notably, actors and actresses of color in the lead roles of films that weren’t about race, but simply depicted humans doing human things. (Indeed, there are directors actively working to normalize casting a variety of races, ethnicities, abilities, sizes, etc in roles for which race, ethnicity, ability, size, etc is not specified. Fawzia Mirza and I talked about this on the radio a year ago.)
Ok, the films. Yes.
Hammersmith: Hurdle of Dreams took home many awards at the Best of Chicago screening and awards presentation including Best Film, and the reasons are clear: it’s funny, it’s well made, it switches between story and story-within-story well, and cinematically.
But, to say the voting was easy would be untrue. It wasn’t. There were a lot of beautifully made films. Lovebug, which took second place and several other awards, was also well made, charming, fun and smartly driven especially by the scenes in the therapist’s office.
Religio, which earned an audience favorite award, was another of the standouts for me. I loved the atmospheric feel, the set, the dynamic between the two characters from the jump, the “oh, shit!” twist, and, creative use of the Ryan Hammersmith character, for sure. (Spoiler: He’s dead the entire film.)
Knock Knock (no video available as of this writing) was another I loved; atmospheric, unnerving, simple, and well done. Actress Julie Ramos was impossible not to love in this film, and she conveyed an unbelievable amount of vulnerability, strength, fear, and fret in this short film, despite hardly any dialogue.
Mockmentary Hammersmith & Son was another audience favorite and smart, sweet definite standout addressing mother-son dynamics and expectations, as well as sexuality without resorting to a flat caricature. Another standout was Jeanie, a love story in which a man and a… cockroach fall in love. Actor Damian Anaya has an endearingly familiar and easygoing quality and he brought depth to a performance that could have been handled too lightly (I mean, his character does fall in love with an insect with a woman’s head added to it in post-production) that makes it easy to root for his bugspray-huffing Ryan Hammersmith.
Karen Wins took on major systemic workplace sexism and the “death by a thousand cuts” phenomenon through the fun and light lens of video game ass-kicking and punching oppressors, while Trypt, an imagining of Lyft for time-travel, was good, creative fun, and pulled off the hard-to-make-it-look-or-land-quite-right combination of atmospheric darkness, comedy, scenes filmed in cars, and special effects.
The Box (yet another I wish I could link for you) by BearCat Productions had some major style elements, with cinematography and editing I absolutely loved, as did Namiram, which pulled off the patient pacing of a subtitled foreign film alongside dreamy, emotional cinematography.
All that in 48 hours, and those are just a few highlights.
Hammersmith: Hurdle of Dreams will represent Chicago at Filmapalooza 2018 in Paris, competing with films from other parts of the world also made in just 48 hours. (This film from Prague won last year.)