Review: Redstone Film Festival

Thoughts on the seven shorts that screened at BU’s film festival this year.

photo by J at Lacma.

photo by J at LACMA.

Last Wednesday evening, I attended the Redstone Film Festival, a screening held annually by the Boston University’s College of Communication. BU’s is one of the most rapidly developing film programs in the country, and I was thrilled at the chance to see what kind of work is being produced there. Here’s a list of the seven short films that screened:

  • “After” by Emily Sheehan (COM ’15)
  • “Albert Lively” by Jack Garrett (COM ’14)
  • “Ida’s 85th” by Julia Iglesias (COM ’14)
  • “The Phoenix” by Jim Dandee (COM ’14)
  • “Tianjin Driver” by Sara Doering (COM ’15)
  • “Vows” by Fannar Thor Arnarsson (COM ’14)
  • “Winter/Spring” by Bryan Sih (COM ’14)

Of the seven, I was most impressed with Bryan Sih’s “Winter/Spring.” The short film tells the story of a young couple on the cusp of parenthood, navigating their way through a rocky relationship patch while working as beekeepers in snow-covered New Hampshire. It sounds tricky, but somehow it works, seamlessly. I ascribe much of the success to Sih’s dialogue, which isn’t at all overwritten in the way student work often is. Giving himself fewer words gave him space to really play with imagery, which he did to the fullest. Visual highlights include the opening shot, which shows the young couple struggling it out in full beekeeper regalia, and a few pitch-perfect moments of shared orange slices that feel so tender it’s impossible not to relate in one form or another. To my mind, Sih is absolutely the Redstone director to watch, and it’s no surprise to me that he was awarded some of the Festival’s top honors (first place overall, and best screenplay).

While also intrigued by Emily Sheehan’s “After”, the most significant takeaway for me beyond Sih’s short came from the films as a whole–as my mother and I were doing a postmortem on what we’d seen while driving home, it dawned on us that our conversations had very little to do with men. Each film had, without exception, focused heavily on the workings of a female protagonist. It was women who were working the hardest (“Tianjin Driver”, “Winter/Spring”), calling the relationship shots (“After”, arguably “Albert Lively”), driving the action, (“Vows”, “Ida’s 85th”), and giving us the most insight into their minds (“Phoenix”, “Albert Lively” again). While men were of course present in every film, they seemed more like varying degrees of provocation than true flesh and blood, creating only temptations, distractions, and trouble for the ladies of the hour.

Were all the filmmakers of this year’s Redstones women, I’d perhaps have an easier time understanding why the female perspective came through so strongly. Curiously, however, this isn’t the case (the group is split almost equally between men and women). Which leaves me wondering what, if anything, this high prevalence of XX chromosomes on the screen means? Something my mother and I discussed was whether or not many of the male protagonists we see in modern blockbusters (I’m thinking lowbrow, i.e. Anchorman or Pineapple Express) would come immediately to mind as material for a short. When your time is condensed, you need to be able to pack a powerful emotional punch quite quickly, and perhaps don’t feel that Ron Burgundy is the right man for the job. Without 90+ minutes to frame the character in the appropriate context, then, are we unable to find much space for men on the screen? Do we see only women as in-touch enough with their emotions from the get-go to carry a short? While these conclusions perhaps push the outer bounds of what we can draw from the Redstones, they’re definitely something to consider.

Till next year, Redstones!

xox E

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