Saturday, December 12, 2009

48 Hour Film Project @ the BMA

A Cinematic Celebration of Edgar Allan Poe

Amy and I went to this at the Baltimore Museum of Art on Friday, December 4, and while I am usually wary of these quick film projects, I gotta admit it was great (the rest of Baltimore thought so, too, because there was nary an empty seat to be found). Of the 11 short films inspired by the writings of Edgar Allan Poe and the BMA’s current exhibition, "Edgar Allan Poe: A Baltimore Icon," only two were flat-out stinkers - though two films did manage to egregiously misspell Poe's name (it's Allan folks, not Allen; filmmakers, please use spellcheck before rendering your films!). In fact, the quality of the films was so professional that I was relieved to hear afterwards in the Q&A that these films took longer than the usual 48 Hour Film Projects; even with today's digital technology (all were shot with digital video cameras and edited on Macs/PCs) that would be too far a leap in turnaround time for the kind of slick production values in terms of sound, cinematography and set design on display here. The event was a collaboration between 48 Hour Film Project curator/producer Rob Hatch and BMA Director of Public Programming Preston Bautista - the latter of whom, in addition to hosting imaginative events like this, is a pretty good tennis player who can hit winners off his two-handed backhand (I always seem to find myself playing next to him on Baltimore's public tennis courts!).

Anyway, following are some quick observations about the films screened...quick, because I'm tired of blogging and need to get on with living my so-called life.

by Nick Prevas
Official site:

Nick Prevas drinks to the gal who got away - down the rabbit hole

First up was this impressively professional short directed by and starring Nick Prevas that looked like something that would air on the Sundance Channel's "In Short" series, yet amazingly was filmed in the course of just four days. Taking its inspiration from both "Alice In Wonderland" and Poe's "The Raven," it featured the most imaginative script, beautiful sets, stylish camerawork, a perfect soundtrack and a wonderful sense of humor. Fantastic. (You can watch more Nick Prevas videos on Vimeo.)

by Jim Lucio
Official blog:

If you are lucky enough to own a gorilla costume (no home should be without one!), you just have to tackle Poe's "Murders in the Rue Morgue." At least, that's what filmmaker (as well as photographer, graphic designer, event promoter, and producer) Jim Lucio thinks. On his Mondo Defeckto web site, Lucio says "I had never really read much Poe, but after reading a good dozen stories, I made the quick decision that I had to do my version of Murders in the Rue Morgue...mostly because there is a killer ape in the story and I happen to have a gorilla suit. My version is as loose as a zoot suit and we took the concept of guerilla filmmaking to the extreme. I've decided to call the short Ape."

Lucio's killer ape is called Wigfoot and seeing him romp around Mt. Vernon landmarks was as much fun to watch as I'm sure it was to film and participate in. There is no narration, just spinning tabloid headlines to advance the narrative, all set against a rousingly raucous Las Vegas Grind garage soundtrack.

The camera work was handled by local videographer Bardot (aka Billy McConnell - but not to be confused with Keith Richards, Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop, Al Pacino, or The Fonz), which makes sense because this is his sort of thing - clever, hip, and funny. Oh, and my friend Renee Reabe makes a cameo as Wigfoot's first victim; gotta admit, she looks great dead!

by Ben Winter

Ben Winter may be an electrical engineer undergrad at University of Maryland, College Park, but I think he should switch his major to film because this was great. Every aspect of this adaptation the Poe tale "Ligeia" was professional, from the casting to the sound, lighting and camera angles (I loved the looking up from a coffin's POV shot!). Plus, the titular Lady Rowena was played by Rachel Cora Wood, who is a total babe - even as ash-white food for worms. Look for her in the upcoming TV series Past Life, the pilot of which was shot down at the Enoch Pratt Central Library earlier this year under the working title "Reincarnationist."

by Chris LaMartina

The funniest film of the night and my personal favorite. What a delightful discovery: I subsequently learned that Chris LaMartina makes live-action horror films and has garnered a bunch of awards, including "Best Local Filmmaker" (Baltimore City Paper, 2006) and "Best B-Movie" (2009 Shockfest International Film Festival). This adaptation of "The Black Cat" was made using what LaMartino describes self-deprecatingly as his "crude animation," but it was really no cruder than that seen on South Park. And bonus points for turning his narrative into a rhyming poem!

Watch "The Immature Burial" on YouTube!

by Merge Films

I honest to God can't remember a thing about this title. Wait, was this the one where the wife hears something go bump in the night and sends her husband downstairs to investigate? And it turns into a lesbian-tinged love triangle double-cross con job with a nod toward Bound? If so, very good and well-shot. And downright scary before the clever denouement!

by Ricky Johnson

I think Ricky Johnson is the same Towson University film grad who did the "Prince of Poop" short about Chris Jensen (CEO of Jensen "Your Poop Is My Bread & Butter" Plumbing Company and former "Baltimore Turd Tsar" under the O'Malley adminstration). This trailer, clocking in at a minute and a half, was short and sweet and - more importantly - funny!

Watch "The Hidden Gibbon" on YouTube:

by Franciska Farkas, Diana Gross, Amy Genevieve Kozak

Wow! Technically the most jaw-dropping production of the night and a crowd favorite. If it was a picture instead of a film, it would hang in the Louvre. Franciska Farkas (Work In Progress Productions) is a motion graphics specialist for Johns Hopkins Medicine - and that background certainly shows in this slick adaptation of Poe's short story "The Oval Portrait" in which a picture seems to come alive only to reveal that its subject has actually died. Poe's influencial tale inspired elements of Oscar Wilde's The Portrait of Dorian Gray, as well as Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story "The Birth-Mark," and is even cited in Jean-Luc Godard's Vivre Sa Vie. Farkas' collaborators include include documentarian/digital media teacher Diana Gross and Amy Genevieve Kozak, who is engaged in a campaign to "promote greater understanding, empathy, and love in the world" (a rather tall order by anyone's standards - good luck with that!).

by Many Americans Productions LLC

You can tell this was conceived and shot by actors because it's all headshot close-ups and self-indulgent yapping, as if the thesps thought the audience would be captivated by their acting chops. As some pompous arse swills cognac and chomps on a cigar (I guess he was trying to convey the suaveness of Arsene Dupin) in a claustrophobic headshot, the camera cuts to a doe-eyed blond's claustrophobic reaction headshot, and back and forth until I found myself dying for a medium or long shot just to relieve the video-vertigo. The sound levels and light exposure were inconsistent and the whole production had the feel of amateur home movies. Let actors write food orders at the restaurants where they work during the day and leave the directing to directors.

by Bryan "Grasshoper" Robinson
I still don't see the Poe connection, but it was interesting and the filmmaker was funny in the Q&A afterwards. I usually hate Q&As because most of the time it's just spotlight time for film geek wannabes in the audience to show off and talk about themselves, but when one "I'm a filmmaker myself" nerd asked techie questions about what kind of camera each filmmaker used, Grasshopper replied, "A video camera." Ha! Short and to the point.

by Stephanie Barber

Excruciatingly lame, but blissfully short.

The film opens with close-up of an ear. Then we hear the sound of a human heartbeat. Then there's a long, long, long shot of wooden floorboards. The shot is held until you can sense the audience's communal response of "Is that it?" Slow fade to credits. We get it, and we are underwhelmed. I later read somewhere that the filmmaker "redistributed" found footage from some 1941 black-and-white German short by blah-blah-blah - which I don't understand because it's not that hard to film a close-up of an ear of wood floorboards (so why bother?). But then, I'm not an experimental filmmaker, so what do I know? If it didn't need to be explained to mere mortals, it wouldn't be experimental, I guess.

by Rahne Alexander
Official site:

This is what experimental filmmaking's all about. Mondo montage mania that's ab-so-f**king-lutely awesome! Renaissance Woman Rahne (music-film-literature, etc.) takes found nautical footage from silents, Hollywood features, and Gilligan's Island to reference Poe's "MS. Found In a Bottle" and then dissects, distorts, and manipulates it to death, all set against an insane barrage of spoken/musical sound that replicates what it must be like to be schizophrenic. Loved it. Just about everything Rahne is involved in is interesting and worth checking out.

by Aaron Shirley and Thomas Fant

OK, technically this may have been the most professional production with its overlapping "fine arts" triptych of ballerina, classical orchestration, and an austere/gray-haired/bespectacled orator reading Poe's poem - but it also went on way too long, resulting in it being kinda boring. I felt like I was watching one of those "Live from the Lincoln Center" specials they run during fundraising drives on MPT. The technical pedigree-in-the-C.V. is certainly there - Aaron Shipley has a BFA in Art and Design and Thomas Fant is an AV techie for Baltimore City...but ultimately the execution is a little dry: a good idea stretched perhaps 5 minutes too long..

Watch the "Annabel Lee" trailer on YouTube:

by Karen Yasinsky

They didn't show this, which disappointed me because 2007 and 2009 Janet & Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize finalist Karen Yasinsky's films rock and she's a sweetie to boot!

Related Links:
48 HOUR FILM PROJECT: A Cinematic Celebration of Edgar Allan Poe (BMA article)
48 Hour Film Project

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Blogger Reverend 48 said...

This is a note from Rob Hatch, the curator and organizer of the event.

I did screen Karen Yasinsky's piece, but it was only 1'48" and she didn't put a title on it (I showed it again on the 11th and added a title.) It was the one with the sky, weird lights, and a little cut out animation. Very good!

Also you misspelled the title of Rahne Alexander's piece. It is 'Simoom', which is the name of the storm in 'MS. in a Bottle'.

Glad you like the work overall though. I was blown away with the quality. I am working on putting together a compilation DVD, if folks want to get in touch with me about that.


Rob Hatch
Curator, A Cinematic Celebration of Edgar Allan Poe

Producer, Baltimore & Portland 48 Hour Film Projects

3:17 PM  
Blogger Ricky Johnson said...

I just found this post, I was checking out the YouTube insight stats and I saw this (cool) blog had my Hidden Gibbons trailer embedded. Random, I know.
Anyway, I am a Towson film grad, but not the one you're thinking of. Regardless, thanks for supporting the poe event and if you want to see the full version of "the Hidden Gibbons" you can do that here:
Ricky Johnson

1:26 AM  
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