Friday, March 14, 2014

This. Is. Sparta!

I had the privilege to be invited to be on the judging panel for a festival of short films held in Ottawa this past weekend, called Sparta LXXII. I just sort of fell into it, and I wasn't really sure what to expect in terms of the quality and length of the films I'd be watching, but I decided to go check it out.




I'm so glad I did! All of the showcased films were well worth watching, and some of them were brilliant. This from someone who rarely goes to the big box cinemas anymore both because of the expense and the unreliable quality of even big name releases these days.

The rules of the Sparta festival are that films are to be shot in 72 hours and must contain a specific "catch criteria". The catch criteria for this year's event was:

Must involve a parent/child relationship and a pivotal moment in the child's life resulting in some kind of life lesson. And there must be blood.

There was a category for whether the catch criteria was integrated seamlessly into the film that the judges had to mark carefully, because this rating would have an effect on all other ratings for the film. Essentially, if the film did not include all of the catch criteria, its final mark would suffer.

When I was in my late twenties and suddenly unemployed due to an unexpected layoff, I applied for an OSAP loan and took a year long full course-load diploma program in Dramatic Scriptwriting at Algonquin College. During that year I learned all about creating great stories, writing scripts, developing characters, and pitching ideas. There was even a field trip to the Canadian Screen Training Centre in Toronto where certain of us were chosen to pitch our works-in-progress to the filmmakers. I was working on a feature film thriller called Critical Persuasions at the time, strangely enough about a young gay male couple who, in order to try to solve some problems in their relationship, moves to a small home in the country and encounters a mysterious and compelling neighbour. I was chosen to pitch my story and it received a pretty encouraging response.

Unfortunately, I was also caught up in a very exciting and risky 'romance' with a free-wheeling (and free-loading) fellow writer which ended up distracting me from completing that screenplay and doing anything else besides indulging my inner Henry Miller with my sex/whiskey/pot-obsessed boyfriend.




I did eventually write a full length feature film script about a female space pirate and her cute gay male friend who travel around the galaxy competing for hot men and getting themselves into trouble. She is sort of an androgynous combination of Han Solo  and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
 I'm really proud of this screenplay but to film it would involve copious amounts of cash and connections which I don't have. Although it suddenly occurs to me it would make a hell of an amusing low-budget porn pic...

But I digress.

Watching these short films (most seemed between 5-8 minutes long) was like being back in scriptwriting class, especially since a friend of mine from that class was sitting beside me on the judging panel (luckily, NOT the guy I'd been seeing back then, lol) I'm forty-four now, with a husband and two kids, so it was great to be transported back to my late twenties for a couple of hours.

These short films addressed a diverse range of emotions. Some were wacky and hilarious, others touching and relatable. I found myself laughing and tearing up in equal measure.

Lessons in Super Heroism is about a young man in his first real job whose boss calls him his "hero". He decides that his true calling is to be a Superhero, so he enlists the help of his dog and an appropriate costume to solve neighborhood crimes, much to the annoyance of his long-suffering mom.

Discipline is a film that begins with a carjacking and ends with the victim discovering that the carjackers are his parents, punishing him for some trivial misbehaviour. Quite funny.

The Accidental Coterie of Imagined Fancies and Grotesque Delights is a very entertaining film involving an average family man's off-the-wall imaginings while his wife and kids are out of the house for the afternoon, which should have won for best title if there had been such a category.

And a film about a baby with plans to take over the world who meets an untimely and shocking demise, called Bundle of Joy. I know this one was very popular and, if not for my distaste for any kind of animated/talking baby, I might have scored it higher. The ending was brilliant.

My two absolute favourites were What the Fuzz! and Our Song.

What the Fuzz! is a very original short film about a cute puppet who arrives in the lives of a supposedly normal couple and discovers that they are not as benign as they pretend. Shot entirely in black and white, with no sound except the orchestrated score and dialogue delivered by written cards as in the silent film days, it is a study in originality. The two lead actors are superb and the puppet work is spot on. On top of all that, the ending is perfect and hilarious. Such a great spin on the classic horror film.



In a completely different vein, Our Song is an extremely touching film told in a series of veignettes to the backdrop of Debussy's "Clair de Lune".  Most of the film is set along the Rideau Canal and other wintery locales in Ottawa/Gatineau. The cinematography is outstanding in this one, as is the acting. Brennan Martin who wrote, directed and produced this film, also stars in the lead role. He is able to perfectly evoke the delight of a newfound love, the anguish of loss, and the bittersweet resolve to invest in a new future.



It was wonderful to see such a great showcase of talent in Ottawa. It makes me want to try my hand at scriptwriting again. And maybe even acting ;)

~ Liz


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