The Second Annual Frozen Film Festival, held at the Westmont Park District in Westmont, Illinois, is a film festival that allows young, first-time filmmakers a place to show their films and gain exposure. This marks the first film festival I've ever had the honor to attend, and from 1pm - 8pm on Saturday, February 22, 2014, it provides for some of the most refreshing entertainment I've seen at a community event in sometime.
I fear that filmmaking and the presence of great acting/directing talent is still seen as a regional thing in much of America (IE: Hollywood, Toronto, etc) and scarcely do we think about how talent comes from everywhere and even the biggest filmmakers had some of the most humble beginnings.
Run by Steve Golembiewski, the film festival features four categories of short films - Best Jr. Filmmaker, Best Comedic Short, Best Dramatic Short, and Best Overall - with twelve shorts in competition, the four respective winners of last year's festival, and concluding with "Fancypants," a feature film. Right off the bat, the festival takes place in a small, little dining room, complete with a sizable screen, a table for Golembiewski's laptop, sound-mixing board, and projector, to allow the films to be blown up on screen. Surrounding this table are about forty to fifty chairs, many of which taken up by the family members of the Jr. filmmakers and the stars of the short films we are about to watch, adding an intimate and personal film-watching experience I had yet to bask in.
At the end of the competition, every audience member was allowed to vote for winners of each of the four categories, as well as other panelists who were picking winners for films to travel further along to other Illinois-area festivals. I will proceed to list all the short films shown in competition, my little review of each, and state the winners and runners up of each category.
Best Jr. Filmmaker:
The Battle: (Unseen by me): The description of the short is as follows: "Presented by MEB Production, The Battle is one minute of nonstop action which transports the viewer from the theater to an animated war zone." Directed by Molly Boland.
Save Your Pennies: (Unseen by me): The description of the short is as follows: "Most people see a penny and say, “It’s just another penny, I can’t buy anything with that. But Dave doesn’t just see a penny, he sees potential. Boland Studios presents, “Save your Pennies.”" Directed by Matthew Boland.
Snow Mo: Here's a short that captures that playful energy and the excitement that ensues during your average snowball fight. Beginning with a girl and her dog eyeing all the snow outside, they soon run out and indulge in your average snowball fight. Director Matthew Boland employs tricky camera angles of all different kinds and reduces the speed of the action gradually and frequently by allowing the shots of snowballs being fired to be viewed in a way that gives them a new perspective and a new kind of suspense. Directed by Matthew Boland, B+.
Where's Sara: *Runner-up for Best Overall and winner for Best Jr. Filmmaker:* The only real horror film of the festival, Matthew Boland's Where's Sara focuses on a father given the responsibility to care for his nine-year-old daughter. Upon waking up in the morning, he can't find Sara and searches the entire house for her, until he discovers that Sara is not the same as she was the night before. The short relies on the first person perspective throughout the entire thing, with the father character presumably holding the camera and showing everything from his own particular point of view. This intensifies things, but by the time the title's question is answered, there's not much of an explanation or a clue as to what exactly happened in the first place or what has really gotten into Sara anyway. The film is levied by its lack of dialog, however, and buoyed by the fact that Boland relies entirely on his cinematography and his simple-filmmaking strategy to get by. Directed by Matthew Boland, B-
Gambeast vs. Moondragon: *Runner-up for Best Jr. Filmmaker:* Made by a fourth grader by the name of Sam Daw, "Gambeast vs. Moondragon" is a child's art project and fantasy come to life, showcasing two hideous monsters battling for the control of the city of Chicago. The project is entirely hand-drawn, complete with cutouts for all the locations and the characters, and Daw's voice provides for a breakdown of the action. I couldn't up but feel this will be an interesting time capsule for Daw when he's older to remind him of what he was interested in and how he went about doing it. Directed by Sam Daw, B.
Best Comedic Short
Lights Out: Lights Out was made by a company called Big Little Comedy to compete in the 48 Hour Film Festival held in Chicago. It follows your average dinner party that turns chaotic when someone is revealed to be killing people whenever the lights are turned off. This is your average whodunit that, unfortunately, doesn't allow its dinner guests a personality or any character before these events begin occurring. However, taking into account that the festival this short was submitted for only allowed for a film created in forty-eight hours, one must think that the screenplay writing session had to be done lightning fast. It's all worth it to see Dacey Arashiba's hilariously over-the-top facial expressions throughout the entire thing. Directed by Big Little Comedy, B-
My Crazy Beautiful Life: This short was easily my pick for favorite of the entire film festival. This is a chaotic endeavor that follows around the life of a filmmaker and is compiled together by shots ranging in length from one second to five seconds, resembling the quality of spontaneous Facebook and Vine videos, showing the absurdity of the life of its director, Cierra Hargrove. As incoherent as it is, the commentary it poses about the randomness and banality of the current teenage life, where everything seems to be either sarcastic, meant to be a joke, and lacking in responsibility, is what levies the film into subversive heights. The short prompted decidedly mixed reactions from the audience members, many of whom writing it off as a random submission. However, if one looks deeper, they find an incredible thesis about the spur-of-the-moment culture, carried day-by-day by the help of Instagram, Snapchat, and other disposable pieces of media. Directed by Cierra Hargrove, A.
Kleptosomnia: *Winner of Best Comedic Short:* Simon Mournsey's Kleptosomnia follows the life of a man whose nightly-sleepwalking episodes result in stealing something of value. Starring Gabrielle Walsh, who later went on to be a supporting character in Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, the short shows the kleptosomniac trying to decide what to do after his most recent episode results in the stealing of a valuable art piece. The short is fun, relatively quick, and ends on a hilarious cliffhanger. Directed by Simon Mournsey, B+.
Dr. Larry: *Runner-up for Best Comedic Short:* Dr. Larry follows the life of a dentist, whose job is made extraordinary due to the fact that he can actually communicate with his patient's teeth. With a lead performance by Danny Glenn as Dr. Larry, which is equal parts eerie and devilishly funny, the short follows him about to extract a bicuspid from his patient's mouth. The entire crew behind Dr. Larry was sitting directly behind me, providing for an interesting and very personal experience in addition, and the short works on the levels of being as humorous and also being unexpectedly black with some of its humor. Directed by L.B. Lyon, B+
Best Dramatic Short:
The Light Bulb: *Runner-up for Best Dramatic Short:* The Light Bulb follows an elderly man, who lives in a dark home with almost no lights. The one light he has finally goes on and the only thing left to remind him of his brighter days are the memories that are revealed by the darkness of his entire house. At the center of the film is a lead performance that is truly mesmerizing and a somber scenario that leaves one to contemplate where there life has been. A dark change of pace for the festival, but a pleasant one at that. Directed by L.B. Lyon, B+
OMG: *Winner of Best Overall and Best Dramatic Short:* OMG follows a man who recently discovers his girlfriend has been cheating on him, and he decides to exact some kind of spontaneous events. But the film really isn't about that, but rather how many different uses there are of the titular phrase. "Oh my God" is one of the most popular phrases in the English language, mainly because it can apply to many different situations. OMG examines the phrase's use in instances that involve pain, pleasure, and panic. The conclusion of the film infuses quite a bit of black comedy into the picture, effectively concluding a thoughtful and thought-provoking short film. Directed by George Liu, A-
The Coming: Director Joy Jones, who won the Best Dramatic Short and Best Overall short at last year's festival, returns with a post-apocalyptic, biblical thriller about a group of friends who are trying to find the parallels to today's world in The Bible. Without a doubt, "The Coming" is the most cinematic of all these shorts, with Jones' assured camera angles, sizable budget, and special effects. The thriller works for a while, but finds itself stuck in the middle of not going far enough but also doing a bit too much for a short film. Directed by Joy Jones, B.
The Winners of Last Year's Festival:
Four of a Kind: *Winner of last year's Best Animation Short:* Four of a Kind is a Brickfilm, also known as a low-budget, stop-motion short made with LEGO minifigures. The film is a movie-within-a-movie with LEGO figures watching four separate short films, each one emphasizing a particular meaning. The short is whimsical, often funny, enticing to watch, and a delightful ode to an underrated medium of animation. Directed by Matthew Boland, A-.
Beauty and Deceased: *Winner of last year's Best Comedic Short:* Beauty and Deceased follows a male zombie who is desperately trying to find female companionship. He hires a browbeating love trainer who attempts to get him out of his relationship-predicament. The short features exceptional zombie makeup, and a delightful sense of self-deprecating humor you don't find frequently in shorts or in feature-length films. Directed by: Andrew Hempfling, B+.
What About Chrissy: *Winner of last year's Best Overall and Best Dramatic Short:* Director Joy Jones crafts a mature and honest short with What About Chrissy, following a confrontation between a divorced couple, both of whom woefully unfit to care for a child. The mother has had three different relationships in a six month timeframe, while the father has been in and out of prison and is a chronic marijuana smoker. Caught in the middle is their young daughter, who simply wants two stable parents. This is a very well-acted, emotionally-honest short detailing a broken relationship with the blameless stuck in the middle. Jones could easily use this as a thesis for a feature film. Directed by: Joy Jones, A.
Fancypants: (Unseen by me): Joshua Russell's Fancypants follows the story of an aging, semi-pro wrestler that tries to avoid conflict in real life.
Festival Review by Steve Pulaski, Lead Film Critic