MCS Student Film Festival Out of Focus

Photo by Vincent Ta
Photo by Vincent Ta

The first annual Media and Cultural Studies Student Film Festival and Competition proves that UCR is making strides in its attempt to fill the crippling need for a true film major. But while the evening seemed successful because HUB 302 overflowed with prideful and excited attendees, there was confusion on what the event should have been.

The film festival had a formal dress code, and many attendees showed up in gowns and suits. However, the staff broke the theme of formal wear with the inclusion of popcorn and hip hop performances by their sponsor, Hip Hop Congress. The popcorn was a nice touch since it is the cliché movie snack that most everyone loves, but the hip hop performances felt completely out of place.

Although Hip Hop Congress’ sponsorship justified the organization’s presence, that does not mean that hip hop should take up almost half of the event’s time, during which the MCS department could have screened other student film submissions. Lasting around 20 minutes each, the three performances were not the best that I have seen and often had too much happening at once. The highlight of the night was Amber, a member of Hip Hop Congress, who sang Lauren Hill’s “Doo-Wop (That Thing).” However, the two songs she sang were ruined by the deafening volume of inconsistent speakers.

The event was structured professionally with a big emphasis on awards, but is this the best way to structure a student film festival? The night did not feel very student-centric and was not fair to all submissions by only screening a select few.

The seating arrangement was typical of any awards show, with circular tables and food that consisted of sandwiches and popcorn––of which they ran out immediately. For a film festival, circular seating was a terrible choice. Certain people’s views were blocked and others had to twist their bodies or chairs in order to get a half decent view of the screen. A better arrangement would have been to organize rows of seating, similar to stadium seating that is typical of any movie theater.

With all the distractions, the event coordinators seemed to lose sight of the film aspect of a film festival. Not all submissions were shown and the audience was left with no knowledge whatsoever of how the MCS department made their choices for awards, or what the winners’ competition was even like.

The event was far from perfect, which is expected of a first-time event, but it could have been better. The festival was a mess of things thrown together that caused much confusion and disappointment for filmophiles.

“First Person Polluter” by Kris Parker
Rating: 3/5

Directed by Kris Parker, the first film of the night was a documentary that discussed the significance of the first-person shooter video game genre. The visuals were an infusion of interviews with former and current military personnel, real-life war videos and video game screen capture. The documentary proved to be extremely informative and taught me quite a lot about the genre, but other than that, it did not impress me.

The way everything was cut together was unprofessional and amateurish. Some parts of the documentary were reminiscent of picture slideshows, leaving the audience uncertain how to feel; the information was great, but the presentation lacked flair. Parker’s work with the microphone was inconsistent in its varying volumes of the interviews and missed the crispness that was expected in parts of the narrative. Overall, the documentary was okay, but failed to keep me interested because the visuals felt too juvenile to come from a college MCS major.

“Liewec” by Adam Antoun
Rating: 2/5

The second award went to Adam Antoun for his film, “Liewec,” which was honored with the Best Cinematography award. This short film was a confusing mess with subpar cinematography. The story was confusing and did not make much sense; it seemed to be about a man who is confused with life and tries to reinvent himself. For a film chosen for best cinematography, it was decent but not color-corrected, ruining the look of the film and leaving me wondering why it even won in that category.

“Liewec” had no real story to it, even though it was nominated for the Best Narrative award; it flowed illogically from one shot to another with a mixture of semi-nude scenes that were not remotely necessary. The film set a serious tone, but then added hints of comedy that distracted from the main point and ruined its overall tone and message. The music effectively set the mood for peace and tranquility, but oftentimes the songs jumped from one to the other, creating a choppy, unappealing musical flow that was not easy on the ears.

“Used Books” by Alexander Gardels
Rating: 4.5/5

The highlight of the evening was the short film, “Used Books,” which presented a surprisingly pleasant experience. “Used Books” was directed by Alexander Gardels and was about a down-on-his-luck man suffering from unemployment and a recently-ended relationship. He finds a book that tells him what he should do to improve his life and find happiness.

The story was a little cliché, but the twist of events was interesting, and the actors really portrayed their characters well. The shots, editing and settings all worked together to make the film look great and intriguing with a high level of skill in filmmaking. The comedy in this film was spot on––it was cheesy, but not overtly so, setting an overall humorous tone that worked just right. However, there was some bad microphone work at certain parts; during a conversation with the main character’s sister, she slams her hand on the table and the sound was way too loud to be acceptable. But overall, the film was very successful in proving that it was worthy of the Best Narrative award.

“Homeless” by Blind Republic
Rating: 4/5

The next award was given to “Homeless” for Best Music Video, directed by Blind Republic. The song and most of the video seemed to be about homelessness in America, but then went on to show images of violence and war, which detracted from the main point of the video; was it about homelessness, or feeling homeless in America because of corruption and war? The music video was extremely well-composed, but confused the audience with images of police brutality, war footage and homeless people. Do they really all directly relate to each other? Other than the directionless mesh of different topics in one video, the cinematography was great and well-edited, and touched upon many important topics in current American society.

“The : 951” by Sarkis Ter-Minasyan
Rating: 4.5/5

The last student film of the evening was Sarkis Ter-Minasyan’s  “The : 951,” a docudrama about the life of Faze Lucciano, a man who lives in Moreno Valley and has seen the effects of gang culture. The film discusses the prevalence of gangs and gang violence in the Riverside and Moreno Valley area. The docudrama strongly blends Lucciano’s life experiences with real interviews with former gang members. The unseen world outside of the UCR campus and the dangers that lie just a mile away shocked audiences. The docudrama was informative and adequately conveyed the dangers of gang involvement in Riverside County.

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Overall, the event was standard, but fell short as a student film festival because of the unequal attention given to all submissions and the amount of inconsistencies in the quality of the event. The food ran out before everyone arrived and there was not enough seating. The films were shown off a student-controlled laptop, which led to many mistakes in volume control. The mouse was seen several times wandering about the video while films were screening, eliciting laughter from the audience and setting an unprofessional mood.

Some of the films were good, some were bad, but the biggest mistake that the MCS department made was its decision to not show or even really acknowledge all the other films in each category. I had high hopes that this film festival would be a safe place and a starting point for student filmmakers at UCR, but it lacked way too much. As an amateur filmmaker, I am actually reluctant to even attempt to submit a film for the next year’s film festival. Better luck next time, MCS department. I hope you appreciate more student films next year.

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