A critical element in the consistently successful PitchNic program of Spy Hop Productions comes in the mentoring from individuals such as Frank Feldman and Jeremy Nielsen. They give the young filmmakers the tools to develop the essential range, depth and breadth that will position them as adults to break the boundaries and reshape the paradigms of telling stories vividly, metaphorically, and memorably on screen.
The dozen young filmmakers who premiered an outstanding quartet of films at last night’s eighth annual PitchNic presentation gave every indication that those lessons have been fully inculcated into their creative core.
Everybody in Salt Lake City and Utah take note: Spy Hop is a powerhouse for youth multimedia arts with a growing national reputation. Few cities, especially those the size of SLC, have comparable programs. And, the audience which packed the Jeanne Wagner Theater at the Rose Wagner Center for Performing Arts roared its approval for each film.
For those of us who attend these screenings every year, it never fails to impress just how that bar for continuous improvement is raised each year. For this writer, there is already the anticipation for what next year’s corps of young directors, producers, and cinematographers will offer.
‘The Silhouettes’ was a strong opener. Featuring interviews and direct performances by five Salt Lake City performance poets, the documentary, which focused on how these artists creatively channel the tensions of their own or others’ emotional issues of mental health and depression, becomes a surprising bonus. This film is an art piece. For those unfamiliar, it is a definitive introduction to the soul of slam poetry that has gained an expanding reputation in this city.
The opening sequence with Jesse Parent and the closing scene with Cody Winger pack a good visceral punch with the rhythm and cadence so vital to this literary art form. Bold and daring, this film has the makings to be a sleeper hit on the festival short film circuit. Kudos to filmmakers Sarah Schuster-Johnson, Loren Ruiz, and Candida Duran.
‘Rx’ starts out as a straightforward story — the interactions between a hypochondriac and a young woman who seems free-spirited and carefree. Working within tight limitations, the filmmakers managed to replicate with satisfying results the hospital interior. Obsessed with the details of his never-ending routine of doctor’s appointments, the hypochondriac (Ryan) stands on the precarious edge of missing an opportunity with the young woman (Avery) who provides the right twist at the end of the film.
The theme of disguise is wonderfully executed here and the filmmakers show a deft hand at keeping the script tight, compact, and nearly stark in dialogue. At the end, the metaphorical lesson emerges in a mature treatment that belies the ages of these young filmmakers. The film was made by Alexandria “Ally” VanRoosendaal, Breanne Anderson, Colton Bybee, and Mars Oliva.
‘Streeters,’ the second documentary offering of the night, effectively provides the humane, nonexploitative, respectful face on the stories of Victor and Renae, among the 1,000 homeless youth who must fend for themselves each night on the streets of Salt Lake City. While viewers get the necessary background information, they are directed toward a sensitive portrait of a couple of young people who, despite their circumstances, are solidly optimistic about their future.
And, indeed, both individuals, who are no longer on the streets, were at the screening last night, genuinely appreciative of the applause and attention. Points definitely go to the filmmakers for reaching out to individuals who otherwise would prefer to be reticent and hesitant about sharing the circumstances that led them to being homeless. ‘Streeters’ was made by Samantha Highsmith, Cassandra Taylor, and Adriana Martinez.
There was no doubt, given the audience’s constant and enthusiastic enjoyment throughout the film’s 29 minutes, that ‘Rock Is In The Air,’ a mockumentary about air bands, was a major hit. Described in the talkback by Nielsen as the most difficult project ever made for PitchNic, this film epitomized the joie de vivre of the youth voice in filmmaking.
Pitched as an homage to Christopher Guest’s famous films of similar genre, ‘Rock Is In The Air’ carries substantial strengths in key areas. To name a few: smart editing, a solid cast tasked with improvising more than 90 percent of the script, and a realistic storyline that echoes as much about the resilience of friendship as it is about the tricky balance between fame and artistic control.
The young trio of filmmakers – Jordan Brockman, Russell Williams, Zachary Allred – wisely avoided traps that could have degraded the film into a silly pastiche. It was an outstanding closer to an immensely satisfying night of screenings.
Hopefully, these films will see some activity on the festival circuit and they merit the serious consideration for next summer’s Utah Short Film of the Year competition at the 2011 Utah Arts Festival.
For more information, about Spy Hop, see here.
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