This is a guest post written by Alex Hanson.
It was a Friday night in Brooklyn. A small paper ticket granted me entrance to Roll Gate Studio, a space where the only permanent fixture was a small half pipe in a corner. A gaggle of twenty-somethings filed in, occupying metal fold-out chairs that faced a blank white wall. In the back, a young woman turned a projector onto that blank wall, illuminating it with the logo for the DV8 Film Festival, and subsequently, the festival screening itself. The homemade, DIY, guerilla feeling of this screening party fit the theme of the festival: every film shown was made over the course of 48 hours on either MiniDV or Super 8 film, using only in-camera editing. The result was a collection of films that filled the gap in so many film school and indie filmmaker spaces: a festival that celebrated the fun of filmmaking and visual storytelling as opposed to technical perfection.
This June marked the second year of the DV8 Film Festival, whose participating filmmakers are mostly students and young independent filmmakers in the New York City area. The festival co-founders, Gaby Granda and Rebecca Shapass, come from this creative pool. They met a couple of years ago as students of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts Film and Television program.
“We worked together as Teaching Assistants at the NYU Production Center which is essentially the equipment rental center for NYU film students,” Rebecca says. “There, we checked film equipment and packed rooms of gear for student shoots.” The two became friends after working together at the production center and on crews for student films.
Tisch is widely regarded as a highly prestigious film school: in 2015, The Hollywood Reporter ranked it the second best film school in the United States. Because of its fantastic reputation and prime location in the center of Manhattan, Tisch attracts applicants who are already passionate, experienced, and ambitious. Most Tisch students strive to make films that appear technically professional above all else in order to separate themselves from other student filmmakers. While this creates a body of students who are often inspired and thrilled by their classmates’ work, it can also foster a draining sense of competition among peers. Gaby and Rebecca were both feeling this pressure when they created DV8.
On film school, Gaby says, “I think when most people go to school for any of the arts, they find themselves competing with their peers, as well as themselves to make the best stuff possible, which is a good thing because it raises the level of everyone’s work for the most part. However, I think this becomes detrimental when students start to make work that they know will please an audience instead of trying something new, or when they don’t make anything at all due to the pressure. Since film is such a high stakes medium, which requires a lot of time and money, this is especially likely to occur in film school.” When editing her first big short, Gaby found herself stuck in a creative rut due to this competitive pressure she was feeling. She wanted to find a way to tap into the fun she had as a child making films with her cousins, when filmmaking was a raw result of a creative urge, not a calculated, budgeted, edited masterpiece.
Gaby reached out to Rebecca, who had been creating MiniDV films for both aesthetic purposes and as a rebellion against what Rebecca calls “the production value/expensive camera craze that infiltrates much of the filmmaking amongst student and independent filmmakers.” Together they came up with the DV8 Film Festival, whose title combines the mediums it would feature: MiniDV and Super 8.
The event is comprised of a shooting weekend, in which participants must shoot their films in the specified formats using only in-camera editing. Their shorts must show a newspaper date to prove they shot during the allotted time. In 2015, DV8 resulted in eleven films, three of which were Super 8. This year, they had eighteen submissions, including seven Super 8 films.
The films screened at this year’s festival prove how important it is to return to the childhood feeling of wanting to make something and then just doing it: immediately, crudely, and honestly. The shorts ranged from fictional narratives to illustrated poems and pieces that blurred the line between personal essay and documentary. Each short has a subtle surreal quality, partly due to the visual texture that MiniDV and Super 8 create, partly due to the significant amount of handheld and not-quite-in-focus shots, and largely due to the clear unhinging of these young filmmakers from any creative inhibitions. While shooting an entire short in sequence over the course of 48 hours may initially seem restrictive, the variety of themes, concepts, and emotional peaks signified the creative freedom from which these shorts emerged.
Totems is a personal short in which a young man, Colton France, explains the significance behind the objects he typically carries around with him. The entire film consists of one shot, in which the camera is on a tripod facing straight down toward broken mirror pieces scattered on the floor. Colton showcases his “totems” by holding them over the shards, his own face reflected above them. This framing is visually engaging almost to the point of being hypnotic, creating a surreal take on what would normally be a vlog-like concept.
Another short, titled only by the fire emoji (“?”), tells the silly story of an all-female music group that stalks and chases a record producer in order to make him listen to their demo. The story takes a turn for the absolutely ridiculous when the record producer, trapped by the girls at a street corner surrounded by heavy traffic, is replaced by a monkey stuffed animal and thrown into the intersection — signifying that the record producer got run over. This dream logic (show man, show stuffed animal in his place, therefore this stuffed animal is the man) is both funny and honest — it’s the way we might tell a story if we were joking around with a friend.
Red Balloon #3 is an on-screen experiment: How many different ways can we examine a red balloon lit only by a streetlight? A minimalist rhythmic song plays in the background as the shots explore the nuances — or lack of — of this lonely red balloon. While balloons are simple, Red Balloon #3 manages to make this one feel majestic. It’s as if we discover not only this balloon for the first time, but film, or even light.
Slow Media is a film collage comprised of sole filmmaker Babs Laco’s narration of two passages from Claire L. Evans’s essay collection High Frontiers, and images and clips themed around recent technology. Babs says of Slow Media: “There are many threads of technology from the past ten years present in my film, which is as long as I’ve been working with film and video. For example, at one point I’m using a DV camera to record my MacBook screen, but I choose to only show images from the mid-2000s on the screen. I love technology, and I love using it to enhance my work.”
Of the DV8 Film Festival, Babs says, “DV8 is awesome because it’s so accessible. Everyone at NYU wants to constantly create, but we are used to the model of enrolling in a production class, refining a script, spending months on pre-production, and spending money on camera and location, so by the time we get to post-production, the film is sometimes lost in translation. It’s an amazing process, but it’s easy to get caught up in the producing and forget that we can still create without a huge budget and fancy graphics. DV8 is an opportunity to depart from that.”
The DV8 Film Festival departs from the competitive nature of film school in not just production, but the viewing stage as well. At the 2016 DV8 screening, the welcoming atmosphere and honest films had the audience of mostly young filmmakers doing what is sometimes hard for young filmmakers to do — just sit and enjoy watching films. This audience laughed, gasped, and was entirely captivated by these honest shorts made by their peers. There was no comparing films, no sense of competition, and no need for showing off. Filmmaking is fun, and that’s what it reminded us.
Image of DV8 Film Festival Co-Founders Rebecca and Gaby: Photo by Alex Hanson. All other images courtesy of DV8 Film Festival.
Alex Hanson is a New York-based writer and the founding editor-in-chief of HERpothesis, a website and zine that showcases work by creative young women in STEAM. You can find her on Twitter @AlexHanson1316.