VMA students remember marathon with short films

by Jason Madanjian / Beacon Staff • April 16, 2014

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The student filmmakers gather for a Q-and-A after the screening.
The student filmmakers gather for a Q-and-A after the screening.

Visceral snapshots of last year’s Boston Marathon bombing were screened last Tuesday night, as audience members watched iconic moments, like the manhunt in Watertown or the comfort of therapy dog Harvard Dangerfield, through the lense of short films made by Emerson students. 

On April 15, one year to the day of the bombings, the college hosted Bright Lights: Marathon Bombing Tragedy Anniversary Screening, a program of student-made short films that all deal, in some way, with the attack on the city of Boston last spring.

After seeing a few films come out of his classes following the bombings, Paul Turano, a visual and media arts assistant professor, decided to compile the best works of the college’s undergraduate and graduate VMA students for a film program. 

“It made me curious to see what else was out there,” said Turano, who has worked at the college for roughly seven years. 

In total, eight short films were shown. Documentary, narrative fiction, and experimental were some of the genres filmmakers chose to convey their stories. 

Turano said he believes film is a perfect tool for students to channel their emotions into works of art. 

“It’s a really healthy way to comprehend incomprehensible things,” said Turano. “It was very heartening to see these students grappling with it.” 

One graduate student, Brandon Sichling, took a cue from famed French filmmaker François Truffaut, when creating his piece, entitled April 19.

According to Sichling, Truffaut once said it is impossible to make a truly anti-war film because movies make war look exciting. 

Keeping that theory in mind, Sichling decided to create a piece that used the attacks as a backdrop for his characters.  

Sichling’s short April 19 focuses on two people who have a one-night stand the evening before the manhunt expanded into Watertown. The news unfolds on television as they decide where to take their relationship.

“I was interested in letting the event get around the far edges of my story,” said Sichling.

Mad Men, a historical drama set in the 1960s, has employed similar tactics when dealing with tragedies such as the murder of civil rights activist Medgar Evers or the assassination of presidential hopeful Bobby Kennedy. Both Sichling and Mad Men achieve a rare type of storytelling: moving without being manipulative; stirring without being saccharine. 

Fellow visual and media arts graduate student Amy DePaola was on her way to work at the restaurant Forum, located on Boylston Street, when the bombs went off. And so, she created a more biographical piece. Entitled The Day I Bought a Red Sox Hat, DePaola describes her short as both a lyrical essay and experimental documentary. 

The film finds DePaola, originally a New Yorker, coming to Boston to live with her boyfriend. But after a breakup and then later the bombing, DePaola needs to make peace with her new city. 

“I wanted to put something into the evening that would help highlight a metaphor that helps deal with tragedies that were both within ourselves and larger than ourselves,” said DePaola.

In the wake of the bombings, DePaola and her MFA classmates created a blog entitled #KeepRunning that was meant to combat the misguided anger that followed the attack, such as angry Americans posting racist remarks on the comments section of major news stories. It was that post that inspired her to make a short film with the same message. 

“The only choice you have is how to heal,” said DePaola.

Visual and media arts graduate student Karen Gerofsky had a similar goal of healing with her piece, Memory of a Fading. However, her film is more about putting events in the past and moving on. 

The highly abstract short, which runs only a little over six minutes, combines pixelated images and video with multiple audio tracks. Gerofsky purposefully plunges the audience into a scene of chaos, echoing the aftermath of the bombings, such as the sound of sirens and phone calls to loved ones. But eventually, sounds become less distorted and video images become clearer, a metaphor for how one’s memory sorts through both tragedy and confusion and eventually finds peace. 

Gerofsky, along with most of the other filmmakers, was in attendance for the screening. She said she hopes her piece becomes part of the larger mosaic that is the 2013 Boston Marathon, and to help continue the grieving process. 

“My goal for the audience was for them to relive that day,” said Gerofsky. “But it’s also for people to realize that this is just a memory. It doesn’t keep happening over and over again.”