Last Thursday evening I went out to the Michigan Theater with some friends to see the 19th annual M-Agination film festival. After some quick hellos, we all took our seats and waited on the films to start. Having been aware of the production of several of these projects throughout the year, I was excited to see the results.
The first short film that came on was a James Bond parody entitled “Icebreaker,” written and directed by LSA junior and Daily Arts Writer Ian Harris and Engineering senior Charles Rivkin. The plot comprised of an evil genius business-frat dude trying to rid the world of icebreakers because he never knew what to say for his fun fact. The film relied heavily on poking fun at Greek life and privilege, among other University of Michigan memes. It would have marked a nice, light-hearted note to begin the festival on if many of the films to follow didn’t fall victim to the same trite nature.
Another short entitled “Cut Throat,” written and directed by LSA freshman Macy Goller, detailed the life of a chef who had never used a knife, only to discover that her finger, which she chopped off, was the secret ingredient to the ziti recipe her father had been looking for his whole life. Although it was clear from the start it wasn’t meant to be taken seriously, it was an attempt at exaggeratedly corny humor that could have been done by middle schoolers. Its nonsensical plot wasn’t compensated for by likability or humor.
Before I continue, I’ll make this clear: I’m in full support of M-Agination’s mission. Giving students the equipment, advice and platform to realize an idea they never would have gotten to convey otherwise is an important aim. Plenty of us have ideas for films, scenes, lyrics or drawings in our iPhone’s notes that will never pan out. M-Agination provides the opportunity for these seeds to blossom.
On Thursday night, though, I saw few flowers. The films mostly all shouted, “We were just having fun making this!” While they were intended for a wider audience, they only seemed to land for those in the audience who had participated in their making. I’m not putting down groups of friends who were just having fun doing something creative, but that shouldn’t have been the only objective here.
I know these were all shorts, but you should be able to say a lot more in a five minute short than you ever could in a five minute speech. A picture is worth a thousand words, so what’s a film worth with the added temporal dimensions of speech, music and an ever-changing picture? A select few films followed the English class’s golden rule: “Show, don’t tell.”
One film that attempted to do so was “Detour,” written by Stamps sophomore Shira Baron and LSA sophomore Elizabeth Wilson. In it, two friends go on a road trip in which they run out of gas and are forced to take a detour to a gas station. This inconclusive plot serves as a metaphor for the lead character’s search for her sexuality, as all she knows for certain is that she’s not straight.
Another film that marked a slight improvement in the festival’s second half over the first was “What If?” written and directed by LSA sophomore Sophie Underwood. In it, a girl’s inner monologue plays a third character on a first date, constantly posing pessimistic “what if…?” questions until the girl finally asks herself, “so what if…?” and gains some self belief. Although the date itself isn’t convincing, the film’s message was more important than most.
Maybe the only film that kept me immersed throughout was “What is and What Should Never Be,” written and directed by LSA juniors Andrew Hullman and Colin Farmer. A band performs in a house of secret Carly Rae Jepsen admirers in an effort for one of the housemates to impress an indie girl. The clash that ensues between artsy boys and basic boys and “high” and “low” art is well-shot and paced, avoiding dwelling on moments of bad acting, scripting or set design that kept me constantly aware of the production of the other films.
Given that M-Agination cuts most scripts it receives, these films probably lost their effectiveness at other points in the process. While having fun usually brings out the best in us, this kind of creativity was regrettably nowhere to be found on Thursday night. Ironically enough, the films at the M-Agination Film Festival largely lacked imagination.