May 13, 2003

Youngsters all fired up

When Fire Escape Films presents its annual spring film festival this Wednesday evening at Max Palevsky Cinema, audience members will be treated to a first from the student filmmaking group: a program composed mostly of entries by first-time filmmakers. As the result of a surge in new members--Fire Escape's rolls have more than doubled in the last year--introductory projects overwhelmingly comprised the pool of submissions for this year's event, leaving little room for entries from upperclassmen, whose short films have historically dominated the festival.

"The Undergraduates," the theme of this year's screenings, acknowledges and celebrates this demographic shift, which is revitalizing Fire Escape. For the first time, our editing office seems too small. The place is teeming with freshmen. They need more couches

Festival-goers should also welcome the injection of youth for bringing diversity to the event. The genres covered in this year's lineup include interview and documentary, "analysis and reconstruction of classic Hollywood cinema," music video, and an exhibition of bodily movement reminiscent of Edison and the Lumiere brothers. Additionally, while the majority of festival entries are still produced using digital video, film makes a prominent return this year in three experimental projects from new filmmakers.

Working in groups, new Fire Escape members operate under the supervision of an upper class filmmaker who helps with basics--like how to construct three-point lighting, how to load a camera, and how to use one of Fire Escape's digital editing suites or film-cutting stations--but remains hands-off with regards to creative decisions. One group wanted to recreate a scene from The Godfather, and another asked if they could sound-synchronize film that was shot on a hand-crank camera, which is stuff we haven't used for years, stuff we had to learn how to do. With cheeky irreverence, one introductory group devised "Story's Hunt," a satirical response to The Hunt, last fall's well-publicized documentary of the Scav Hunt, which was produced by Fire Escape Films' "old guard."

Other introductory projects to be screened on Wednesday night include a tightly-edited compilation of interviews with a freshman filmmaker's messianic roommate, and a not-so-solemn treatment in grainy black and white of actor Bryson Engelen attempting to cross a street. (Engelen has become a favorite actor among Fire Escape filmmakers since his work last winter in "Out Of My Head," a 30-minute narrative film that will premiere on May 20.)

The only two festival entries from senior filmmakers are also departures from traditional Fire Escape fare. "Story," from graduate student Andy DeJohn (who directed last year's highly regarded comedy "My Left Foos"), is a silent study of still images of masks in DeJohn's apartment. Fourth-year Alex Pile's "The Unicorn," which premiered last week at the Festival of the Arts, depicts a sequence of Quentin Tarantino-esque violence with stop-motion clay animation.

"The Undergraduates" Spring Film Festival begins May 14, 10 p.m. in Max Palevsky Cinema, 1212 E. 59th Street.

Suggested donation: $3.0