Diverse mix at 15th annual Emerson Student Film Festival

by Cathleen Cusachs / Beacon Staff • March 25, 2015

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Courtesy of How to Make a Nightmare
Courtesy of How to Make a Nightmare

The Bright Family Screening Room audience laughed, cried, and was utterly creeped out after watching selected student work.

Fourteen short films were presented by Emerson at its annual film festival, held on March 22, and three were honored with awards. Between the two programs, titled Anti-Gravity and Gravity, the audience of approximately 100 was asked to vote for an additional award, which included a filmmaking application valued at $2,500.  

The Take Action Hollywood for Social Justice Filmmaking award and cash prize went to Austerity, a film by Renos Gavris, a third-year media art graduate student. It’s a drama inspired by Dimitris Christoulas, who committed suicide in a public square in Athens in April 2012. Although most of the film is fiction, Gavris, who grew up in Cyprus, said he got the overall idea, and the movie’s ending, from Christoulas’ story.

The film was shot in Greece, making it too expensive to fly Emerson students there for the actual filming, though Gavris said his peers were involved in pre-production and editing.

“It’s a political film, but I want to focus on the personal drama,” Gavris said. “That’s what I want you to take out of this. It’s about the people and not about the numbers.”

Christoulas committed suicide to call attention to the poverty and harsh conditions he and others throughout Greece were experiencing, according to Gavris. He said the Greek government would not let the news media bring those horrors to light, so public suicides started becoming a more significant avenue for expression in recent years.

Gavris said he wanted to use his filmmaking knowledge to teach others about the current austerity in Greece. The short film’s effects and aesthetic are minimalistic, which emphasises the emotion.

“[Social dramas] are always a reality check for people,” Gavris said. “You might be living somewhere else in the world and be totally disconnected from something else that’s going on, but that’s the power of film. A film, even in 15 minutes, has the power to do something for the audience, and kind of put them in different mindsets for at least a few minutes.”

Besides its The Take Action Hollywood for Social Justice Filmmaking award, festival viewers also voted Austerity as their favorite and the recipient of the Audience Award.

It was Gavris’ first time seeing this film on the big screen, an experience that he said was both unusual and unsettling. He said he gets uncomfortable when people congratulate him because so many others were involved in the film.

Devin Francis, a freshman visual and media arts major and film festival attendee, enjoyed Austerity, but said he did not agree with it winning the Audience Award.

“I thought that [How to Make a Nightmare] was so well made,” Francis said. “The fact that it used live action and stop motion at the same time was really interesting. It was just really creepy and added so much to what they were trying to do.”

Noah Aust, a 2014 visual and media arts graduate, was responsible for the film. How to Make a Nightmare features two deformed men working with toxic memories to literally brew a nightmare, and won The Film Nation Award for Best Narrative Film’s cash prize. It contained home videos and photographs from Aust’s own childhood, and used live action filming.

“A lot of my artwork kind of deals with anxiety,” Aust said. “Surrealism can deal very poetically with psychological themes so I’m into that. I really like realism in films, but that’s not really what I’m good at. I think as a filmmaker I gravitate more towards the expressionistic, symbolic stuff.”

Aust said he originally thought of the idea as a freshman at Emerson, and it grew over the years. A connection which can be seen between one of the monsters and the girl experiencing the nightmare comes from an idea he had for a gothic fairytale. Because he was the writer, director, and editor, he said it was easy to implement any new concepts and changes he made. Most of the crew were also Emerson students at the time of production.

“It was a learning experience for everybody,” Aust said. “We had a bunch of black goo for one of the scenes that accidentally fermented; so that was gross, and it got everywhere, and it smelled terrible.”

Both films relied heavily on online fundraising campaigns. How to Make a Nightmare raised around $5,600 and Austerity raised about 11,000 euros, both fulfilling the necessary funds.

Very Happy Life, the winner of The Barbara Rutberg Award for Best Documentary Film cash prize, was described by the festival program as a story about living life to its fullest. The director, Cooper Vacheron, a junior visual and media arts major, declined to comment further, citing the sensitivity of the documentary’s subject.

How to Make a Nightmare is set to be shown at the The Hallucinations Collective Festival in France. Very Happy Life and Austerity have no further scheduled public future screenings. 

Although all three films are wildly different from one another, they all share the same goal, as evidenced by their respective wins at the festival. 

“You go to the movies to be entertained,” Gavris said. “But sometimes something can be aesthetically appealing, but at the same time [create] an awakening in people, a realization that the world is not always perfect.”