What drives us? What motivates us to create? Is it love, loss, joy, pain, fear, wonder… Or is it all the above?
In Jennifer Alleyn latest film Impetus, a hybrid narrative drama and documentary, she examines the creative process through existential angst. It’s a free-form exploration of the philosophical ideas behind our impulses. The film transitions back and forth between French and English, between Montreal and New York City. Creativity has no firm place, has no set language. It’s fluid and the story structure, or lack thereof, reflects that. It’s up to us to give our imagination a shape for others, and for ourselves. Sometimes that easy but more often than not its a struggle.
There is the filmmaker (Jennifer Alleyn), who is nursing a broken heart and has lost sight of the character in her upcoming movie. Then there is John (J. Reissner), her musician friend whose dealing with the effects of age and loss of those near and dear to him. Rudolf (Emmanuel Schwartz) is the filmmaker’s lead actor who, like a reptile, wants to shed his old skin to begin again. Then there is the filmmaker’s lead actress Pascale (Pascale Bussieres) who is eager to please but feels a deep loneliness that disconnects her from her art and her happiness. A pianist Esfir (Esfir Dyachkov) who refused to play the piano by herself after her son’s untimely death. And taxi driver (Besik Kazarian) whose face we don’t see but whose astute observations on life brings Pascale to tears.
The movie shares a lot of deep thoughts on creativity and love as the driving force in our lives.
“The character are there. We don’t always see them.”
There is a reptilian theme that I found thought-provoking and effective. Pascale and Rudolf housesit for a traveling artist, taking care of his reptile, a gecko. We see the creature in the terrarium, peeking through the plants. Then in different scenes the audiences sees various other plants with human subjects behind them, as though the filmmaking process is like looking into a terrarium. Rudolf (Emmanuel Schwartz) reenacts the movements of a reptile in a scarily convincing way. The movie goes into the filmmaker’s creation and draws us back out to the process. When the reptile loses its tail it will grow a new one, representing loss and the creative process. One character says, that while the tail will grow back, a scar will remain; “there will always be a difference between the old and the new one.”
Impetus is an inventive exploration of the metaphysical. However it struggles to keep the viewer’s attention. While the story got away from me the philosophical ideas stuck.
Impetus had its US premiere at Slamdance 25 as part of the Narrative Feature Competition.
Eyes at the Specter Glass: A Cosmic Horror is a visual and auditory experience that requires your patience, your passivity and your attention. Set in the cosmos, this short film is composed of shifting and moving shapes that start off in black and white and then morph into beautiful blues, pinks and purples. If I were ever abducted by aliens, I can only imagine it would look, sound and feel a little like this. This film envelopes you in darkness, light and sound. There is no overstimulation here. Everything is gradual and paced to allow you to soak everything in.
This 11-1/2 minute short film is directed, animated and scored by Matthew Wade with music mastering by Jacob Kinch. According to Wade, Eyes at the Specter Glass is about the “perception of reality and how we catalog life events through memory, bias and time.” The macrocosm of the universe is told through the perspective of the individual.
Eyes at the Specter Glass is an experience worth your while if you allow yourself to submit to it. I could see this film as an installation at a museum, as long as it could be viewed in an enclosed space.
Eyes at the Specter Glass premiered at Slamdance 25.
“You are entering the realm of the clandestine and forgotten. A split screen caught between channels.”
Set in 1950s New Mexico, The Vast of Night follows two teens as they uncover a secret frequency that reveals an otherworldly presence in their small town. On the night of Cayuga High School’s basketball game, Everett (Jake Horowitz) the local radio DJ who has a knack for technologies, meets up with Fay (Sierra McCormick), a switchboard operator. Fay asks Everett to teach her how to use a tape recorder. Fay hears a strange noise coming from one of the phone lines and she captures the sound on tape. When Everett plays it on the air, the two learn that something is amiss in their community. Billy (Bruce Davis), a retired military worker and Mabel (Gail Cronauer), a homebound widow, both reach out to Everett with their stories of secret military experiments and extraterrestrials. Everett and Fay are on the run to uncover the truth behind these stories and why the aliens are targeting their hometown.
Directed by Andrew Patterson and written by James Montague and Craig W. Sanger, The Vast of Night is a dialogue driven drama. Rapid-fire chatter mixed with slow, methodical storytelling drive the plot forward. Not much happens in the way of action and the story’s tension comes from increased paranoia and the uncovering of a supernatural mystery.
“The Vast of Night an exercise in people telling stories to each other. Drawing you in detail by detail.”
director Andrew Patterson
While the dialogue is key to the film, I found there to be too much of it. Cut away 25% of the chatter, especially in the beginning of the film, and I wouldn’t have felt like I was drowning in dialogue. The real appeal for me was the science fiction element with an emphasis on mid-20th century technology: radios, tape recorders, audio reels, switchboards, telephones, etc. There is also retrofuturistic vibe with the discussion of the year 2000 and “electronic highway control.” All the characters wear period appropriate clothing and vintage glasses. Some of the scenes are filtered through a blue-tinted television screen adding to the retro vibe. McCormick and Horowitz were convincing as the curious, technology loving and seemed plucked right out of the 1950s.
The Vast of Night will appeal to fans of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Twilight Zone. The heavy dialogue can be exhausting but if you have the patience to get through it you’ll be rewarded at the end.
The Vast of Night had its world premiere at Slamdance 25.
Director Rishi Chandna’s 13 minute short documentary Tungrus follows the story of the mild-mannered Bharde Family from Mumbai, India and their “chicken from hell.” The Bhardes live in a small apartment, a father, mother, two sons, daughter and their cats. Six months ago, the dad brought home a young chick he bought for 10 rupees. He thought to himself “this will be a great toy for my cats.” The chick grew up to be a fearless rooster, causing ruckus in the Bharde’s constrained living quarters. Leaping, scratching, attacking, flying and pooping everywhere, this rooster is one giant menace. Why have they put up with this rooster for so long and how long will this chaos last?
Tungrus is a funny, quirky yet sober doc that works on numerous levels. One of the reasons I was drawn to this film was its exploration of family. One decision made by the dad has repercussions on everyone. On the one hand, the Rooster becomes a central part of the family unit. I know what it’s like to have that one disruptive family member who causes utter chaos. You love them despite their craziness. It’s the unspoken bond family members have with each other. On the other hand, family is both a fixed construct and one can mold and change. You are stuck with your blood relatives but you can also build a new family and rid yourself of certain members who cause dysfunction. The Rooster becomes a central figure of the Bharde family but the toxic environment he creates causes the patriarch to make a decision about the Roster’s fate, bringing the story to its tragic climax.
“Tungrus is essentially a human story, because each character in the film must probe the nature of affection, of loyalty, and even the ethics of eating another creature.”
Tungrus is part of the Slamdance Documentary Shorts program and is part of The New York Times’ Op-Doc series. You can watch the film in its entirety on the NYT website.
Singer Joanne (Cobie Smulders) and her band are on a nostalgia tour in Dorset. Big in the 1990s, Joanne is struggling to hold on to the magic from two decades ago. When her bandmates quit and she discovers her boyfriend Larry (Noel Clarke) is cheating on her, Joanne is left to her own devices. She meets up with her best friend Sara (Jessica Hynes) and they drunkenly apply to a local college. The next morning they find out they’ve been accepted. Not willing to deal with the current state of their lives they become part of the college scene, going to parties, challenging each other to ridiculous competitions and making friends with their dorm mates. Joanne meets Pete (Richard Elis), a relatively shy and awkward guy who works as the college registrar. At first Pete is just a potential hook-up. But as she gets to know him she discovers something more meaningful in their encounters. Pete and Joanne are polar opposites and the positive aspects of their personalities start to rub off on each other. Can Joanne let go of her past and embrace a future full of unknowns?
Alright Now was written and directed by Jamie Adams. It’s was shot over 5 days and the scenes are entirely improvised. This is quite a filmmaking feat and I would love to see a behind-the-scenes documentary discussing this aspect of the process. The story and the flow felt more organic, like I was watching a real story unfold rather than a scripted piece.
I really wanted to know more about Joanne’s career and the affects fame had on her. Instead the story focuses more on the love story between Joanne and Pete. At times I think there would be more to Joanne and Sara’s story but the movie would deviate away from them.
Alright Now is a charming indie movie that goes with the flow and lets the main character take her story where it will. Cobie Smulders is a natural fit to play the erratic yet fun loving rock star trying to make sense of her new life.
The movie is available on VOD from Gravitas Ventures.