This past Wednesday evening, an eager audience was gathered in an old-fashioned, narrow theater, waiting for the lights to dim. The delicate light fixtures on the high walls were reminiscent of an earlier era. Row after row of small seats sloped back gently, facing a smallish screen. It smelled, beautifully, reminiscently, of popcorn. The crowd had come together at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute to see this year’s Tri-Co film festival, a collection of films created by Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore students.
Throughout the speeches and the introductions, the audience was getting antsy – scrounging for lozenges in their pockets and checking phones. When the lights dimmed, however, and the smallish screen went grey and then exploded into color, it was hard to think about anything else but the films. By intermission, when the lights slowly uncovered the audience, we were rubbing our eyes and wondering what had hit us. It was like that moment when you go to a matinee and leave the theater – throwing out your junior mints box, dodging the restroom line – and are assaulted by the last thing you ever expected to see: sun, waking you up as if from a dream. As the late film critic Roger Ebert said, “If a movie is really working, you forget for two hours your Social Security number and where your car is parked. You are having a vicarious experience.”
The films showed during Wednesday’s festival varied widely, from animation to documentary to drama, but each had the remarkable power to transport, to help us forget our physical realities for a few minutes. The festival was founded last year by Professor of Film & Media Studies Erica Cho, who teaches at both Swarthmore and Bryn Mawr. This year’s juror was Shari Frilot, senior programmer at the Sundance Film Festival and Tri-Co Mellon Artist in Residence.
The festival included 23 short films, the longest being a little over 11 minutes. “‘The Four of Us Are Dying’: The Twilight Zone” was an animated title sequence directed by Janessa H. M. Esquivel ’13. “Our objective was to creatively reinvent title sequences,” she said. During the animation process, she was “constrained to very simple geometric shapes,” managing to turn them into a riveting, shifting kaleidoscope. The jazz music also heightened the classy, subtle effect. “The Twilight Zone and Miles Davis – these things go hand in hand in my head,” she said.
Another Swarthmore film was the redemption-fueled animated “Fuck You, Chuck Jady,” directed by Fernando Maldonado ’13. In the almost two-minute film, Maldonado tells the story of being tricked out of his best Pokemon card by an older bully on the bus to school. The figures are colorful and rough, sketched with a sense of childlike humor. Maldonado’s voice over, calmly expressing the pain of this traumatic yet silly moment, elicited frequent laughter from the audience. The film addresses “this moment of embarrassment and regret […] which at the time meant the world to me,” Maldonado said.
Maldonado also worked on the film “Things Lost: An Exquisite Corpse” with Ted Johnson ‘13, Zein Nakhoda, and Sarah Kim ‘13. For a class with Cho, the students were instructed to draw and then animate an object that they had lost, forming their object out of the one that came before. Fernando’s object began the sequence: a super banana plush action figure. “Both of my films are about things I don’t have anymore and at 22 years old haven’t gotten over,” he said.
Johnson recalled the slow, laborious process of animating using stop-motion drawing, making one drawing, taking a picture, and then changing the picture slightly and taking another picture, over and over again. Each artist was granted a 12-second segment in “Things Lost,” and each segment contains 12 frames per second. The process of creating his individual segment, according to Johnson, took approximately six to eight hours. “It’s a very high-stakes project,” he said, describing the importance of having a camera that does not move even a miniscule amount over long periods of time. “It was both very frustrating but very rewarding to bring something to life on paper that you couldn’t see in the moment,” he said.
At a reception after the showing, Frilot gave out eight awards, bestowing a few sentences on each, praising everything from strong narratives to impressive senses of humor. “Triptych,” a documentary directed by Hilary Brashear with cinematography help from Waleed Shahid, both Haverford students, received an award for its eye-opening treatment of a unique topic, a polyamorous relationship. The film compared relationships, poetically, to collages, the cobbling together of love from different sources in order to make one whole. The simile was rendered beautifully and engagingly.
“Weightlifting: A Swarthmore Subculture,” directed by Julie Warech ‘13, was similarly honored for its in-depth reporting. The film included multiple interviews, in addition to scenes shot at the gym. Close-ups on the straining, sweating faces of lifters added a visceral perspective.
“Telefon,” directed by Monika Zaleska ’13 with cinematography help and produced by Cristina Matamoros ‘14, was honored for its hard-hitting dialogue, a gripping and familiar story of familiar tension. The film was shot in Polish and included English subtitles, adding to the audience’s feeling of peering into an intimate drama.
“Desenterrando Muertos (Unearthing Silence),” directed by Alexandra Colon with cinematography and editing by Waleed Shahid and Mary Clare O’Donnell, all Haverford students, won the most votes from viewers to win the “Palme D’Tri-Co Audience Award.” The exquisitely-shot documentary dealt with the filmmaker’s missing grandfather and the different perspectives on the mythic man, revolving the story around a central image of water in a lagoon.
The other films that received awards, as well as those that did not, were each individually striking, possessing that intangible ability to transport the audience to a place where even the scent of popcorn fades away. Frilot expressed her admiration of the student films in an interview. “I was impressed by the production value and also the levels of storytelling,” she said. Using “Desenterrando Muertos (Unearthing Silence)” as an example, she said: “It’s not just the story of a grandfather that the filmmaker doesn’t know, but the metaphor of the lagoon is invoked.” Frilor describes her job as discovering talent, and says that in young people she sees “a lot of new ideas, new approaches, [and] new perspectives.” This year’s Tri-Co Film Festival succeeding in providing all three.
Editor’s Note: Monika Zaleska ’13 is the former Co-Editor in Chief and Cristina Matamoros ’14 is the current Assistant News Editor of The Daily Gazette. Neither had any role in the creation of this article.
Correction: Photos courtesy of Martin Froger Silva, not Martin Froger-Silver, as was originally published.