Teen Film Festival celebrates 10th anniversary

Feb 20, 2013

A still photo from Varúð by Emily Suzor and Maureen Reed

Psst: You wanna see 28 free movies? I’ve got a deal for you. Get a seat for the 10th annual Kalamazoo Teen Filmmaker Festival, which will be held at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the State Theatre. The movies were made by local directors between the ages of 13 and 18. The selections cover an impressive range of topics, from a soldier’s battle with post-traumatic stress disorder to a doctor with a sick sense of humor to a lonely sock monkey searching for the girl who once adored him. 

There’s no shortage of variety in terms of genres, either. This year’s films include documentaries, animation, dramas, comedies, music videos, mock commercials and even a few experimental pieces.

Keep in mind that this is definitely a film festival and that not every entry is going to wow you. There are several movies in which you can see interesting ideas that weren’t fully developed and the half-baked humor in a couple of the comedies will probably be best appreciated by, well, teenagers. But the excellence and sophistication of some of these films is truly astonishing. You don’t look at them and say, “Well, that’s really good work for a kid”; some of these films are remarkably well-produced by any standards, with imaginative direction, gorgeous visuals and clever concepts. 

Look at Education for the Arts student Alyson Kuch’s marvelous short “Escape,” in which a young woman dreams her way through numerous scenarios during the course of one night. The film uses a stop-motion animation technique to show us the sleeping girl on a white mattress that becomes the backdrop for the action. First, she’s jogging to catch up with a boy she likes. Then she’s deep-sea diving, battling with an octopus that’s made out of laundry. From there, she swims upward into a midnight sky, floating past shooting stars and spinning past planets.

Equally impressive is Emily Suzor and Maureen Reed’s Varúð, which also uses stylized animation to tell a simple but lovely story. The video opens in black and white, as a young woman grabs an umbrella and steps out into what looks like a gray, overcast day. Her view changes suddenly and dramatically, however, as her neighborhood slowly springs to life to the tune of an ethereal Sigur Ros melody.

Jonathan D’Ambrosio, who won the best film award last year with his drama, War Within, takes on the subject of the Holocaust in The Whistle, a gripping eight-minute thriller with outstanding cinematography, sharp editing and impressive performances.

Perhaps the funniest of the comedies in this year’s festival is Nathan Ginter’s mock-umentary Zombie Life, in which a suburban Mom and Dad fret over their son’s inability to fit in at school because of his chalky skin, his constant growling and his tendency to eat human hearts for lunch. “I still think it was the vaccinations,” Mom insists when asked how her son became a pre-pubescent zombie.

You’ll see all of these and much more on Sunday afternoon. Even more importantly, you may be seeing the first works by filmmakers who may someday become the next generation of Steven Spielbergs, Robert Zemeckises and Ang Lees. Congratulations to the Kalamazoo Public Library, the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts and their partners for giving the community a festival that’s always worth attending.