Yesterday, I went to the Hammer Museum’s Open Projector Night for the first time, and it was pretty awesome.
The event is basically like an open mic night, except for short films. Anyone can submit work–no longer than 10 minutes, in any format–right before the screenings start. Two minutes of each submission are shown, and then the audience raucously decides whether to keep watching or not.
I have to say, after spending over two hours watching short film after short film, the overwhelming feeling I came away with is, well, making films is hard.
Okay, I know that’s obvious, but when you let amateur filmmakers show their work to an auditorium full of people who have no idea what they’re about to see and have no reason to be invested in anything…suddenly, it becomes obvious in a really intense way. Every time a film falters, you feel it. And sadly, nothing makes you appreciate good filmmaking like watching bad filmmaking.
But at the same time, here’s the amazing thing…what is bad filmmaking, anyway? This whole experience reminded me of just how precariously a film can perch between horrifically bad and weirdly good. Sometimes a film can be poorly or bizarrely edited, or totally incomprehensible, or disgusting, and yet…still kind of awesome. That’s the beautiful thing. In the first few minutes of every film (or play or story), the audience is totally game to engage with just about anything you throw at them. (The best description I’ve found of this phenomenon is in Act I of the This American Life episode, “Fiasco.” If you haven’t heard it, you need to stop reading this and go listen to it now.) And the point at which the audience gives up on you is surprisingly far removed–provided, of course, that you don’t bore them. A bad film still has potential; a boring one is dead in the water.
But enough about bad films! The three audience-approved films that “won” last night were in fact quite good:
The First Hope by Jeremy White
This coming-of-age story (of sorts) was beautifully shot, acted, and directed–not the work of an amateur at all, actually. It will, however, make you very uncomfortable.
The Battle of the Jazz Guitarist by Mark Columbus
This moving tribute to the director’s father is also a tentative, yet honest, examination of their conflicted relationship.
Oh man, I need to wait for the Hammer to post the name of this film’s director. This was actually my favorite one. It’s a documentary about a guy who records a bunch of sounds relating to his friend’s beer drinking.
Anyway, if you live in the LA area, you should definitely check out the next Open Projector Night, which will take place some time in the spring. And while you’re at it, you may as well visit the Hammer’s exhibits as well–as of this February, admission is completely free.