An appreciation of small films

We, the filmgoers and TV watchers of America, are spoiled by Hollywood. We have grown immune to special effects and take fabulous locations, actors, and cinematography for granted, even if we’re just watching a commercial for cat food. But film doesn’t need to be professional to be good. Sometimes, it’s even better done simply.

Last weekend marked the third annual Rock River Film Fest at Rock Valley College, providing a venue for local filmmakers and fans. The festival, organized by Storefront Cinema and sponsored by local businesses, featured 10 short films chosen by jury.

What can you expect from local film? Not many people have had a chance to see the works by the students, amateurs, and occasional professionals who produce films here in town. It might be easy to consider quality films only those on a par with Hollywood productions and network TV. However, the film fest proved that it is quite possible to make something original, skillful, or absolutely hilarious on a small scale. You really don’t need famous actors and cutting edge special effects to be good.

This year’s fest was the best of the three so far, with selections heavy on documentaries and humor alike. Notable entries included Axel Hazelrig’s, Lynette Kleisner’s, and John Lisowki’s documentary Weatherman about a hapless and somewhat pathetic would-be meteorologist in pursuit of his dream job as a TV weatherman. Hilarious and yet sad, the film shows the protagonist speaking of his dreams and describing the effort he has made to achieve his goal. The filmmakers ride a fine line between making the weatherman a butt of a joke— his absolutely wimpy personality, fright wig hair, and admiration for the weathercasters of the large networks—and sympathy for his determination despite his obvious lack of skill. You laugh, and immediately feel bad for laughing.

Another notable documentary is Brian Ekdale’s and Tim Mosbach’s Just A Game on the “video games, the players that play them, and the women who tolerate both.” Here we see three average college students obsessed with John Madden’s video football game, admittedly devoting all their spare time to perfecting their game skills while neglecting studies, jobs, and their girlfriends. Like Jekyll and Hyde, the young men are transformed from average clean-cut students who speak intelligently about their obsession to outraged, violent pottymouths over their game performance. Meanwhile, their girlfriends look on, alternately with contempt, boredom, and disgust, unable to understand the attraction of the game. The temper tantrums, accusations and cursing over the fate of the game are absolutely comical.

Paul Harvey Oswald’s The Mid East Relations Cube is the most conceptual of all the films, powerful in conveying a strong message quickly and with simplicity. The 2 minute film shows the turns of a Rubik’s cube, only with national flags instead of the familiar covered squares. While a sputtering bugle plays a poor rendition of the National Anthem, a list of names are read out loud: names of those killed in the Iraqi conflict. The question of the need for U.S. involvement in Iraq is suggested in the final scene of the cube, now covered in question marks.

While Storefront Cinema might be gone, it hasn’t completely disappeared. All involved are to be commended for the effort in organizing the fest. If you missed it, or are an aspiring filmmaker yourself, watch for it next summer.

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