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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Thing 70: Reel Affirmations

An actress friend of mine (Jenny), recently participated in a staged reading of screen plays for a screen writers' conference. Prominent screen writers came to listen to these up and comers' works and then gave feedback and criticism. One of the things they kept saying, as reported back by Jenny, was that you have to establish everything in the first five minutes of your movie. Characters, setting, conflict all have to be clear and catching in five minutes, or no one will keep reading your script (or presumably watching your movie).

I kept thinking back to that when watching the short films as part of the Reel Affirmations International LGBT Film Festival. What if your movie is only five minutes long? How do you tell a compelling story when there's hardly any time to establish character, plot or conflict?

Having watched these nine short films, I think the answer is, "with difficulty." Two of them succeeded all the way, creating characters you were invested in immediately, and one even creating a heartbreaking twist of an ending that surprised me in my emotional response after only 14 minutes of movie. A couple of them were funny and charming, but more like comedic sketches or offbeat art projects than mini-movies. And some of them were failures -- failing to make me care about the characters, introducing trite or cliched conflict, and then hitting me over the head with the moral at the end of the story. No, thanks.

Of course, this is a gay film festival and all the shorts dealt with gay topics and themes. And of course, I'm not gay, so maybe this sentiment is not shared with the festival's target audience, but I felt the strongest films were the ones able to transcend their 'gayness.' In other words, they were able to address the themes that face everyone -- loneliness, connection, love and longing -- within a gay context. The films that limited themselves to being gay films only were the ones that didn't succeed.

This was the only night of films I made it out to see, during the ten nights and fifty-odd films showing during the festival. Anyone else out there see anything good? Bad? Care to chime in on my amateur critical take on the men's shorts?