“To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”
“Don't pay any attention to what they write about you. Just measure it in inches.”
― Andy Warhol
Last weekend, the University of Guam Film Festival showcased more than a dozen locally produced short films including documentaries, animations and narratives. By creating an open place where artists can express their ideas, the silver screen showcased beauty, diversity and ingenuity. In any budding filmmaker’s career, every project is an experiment from which its creators learn to better their craft—after all the mascot adopted by the Guam International Film Festival is a butterfly, the proverbial beauty that grew from the ugly body of a caterpillar.
“American Soil, Chamorro Soul”
By far, “American Soil, Chamorro Soul” was the most picturesque film in the lineup. Filmed by wandering cameraman Brandon Li (“Tokyo Roar”) and local cinematographer Justin Baldovino (“Pizza Boy,” “Sleepwalker”), the documentary sweeps over the turquoise sea and zooms in on the wood shavings of a proa in progress.
It’s worth mentioning the heavy public criticism the film received during production, escalating with each trailer, mainly because the film was being created by a travel-writer from elsewhere and not a sanctioned Guam organization. Whatever the documentary was in its original inception, the final 20-minute package asks important questions: How is Chamorro culture represented/misrepresented to outsiders? How is Chamorro culture being practiced on Guam and how should it be practiced?
Whether because of time, or funding, or fear, the film does not delve any deeper and settles for the familiar conclusion that Guam is a beautiful island full of hope.
“What Goes Around”
“What Goes Around”? A ball. This 10-minute short film follows a red kickball, and the impact it can have when it bounces into someone’s life. Directed by Robert Patricio and Adrian Calugay, the silent film unfolds into a subtle story of karma, humor and nostalgia.
Reminiscent of “The Red Balloon” (1956), the flight of the red ball is meticulously shot and wonderfully crafted. Imagine how many times it took to get that red ball to bounce just right down the stairs. “What Goes Around” is enjoyable in the same way that watching a slinky walk down the stairs is.
“You’re Not Going Anywhere … Kid”
Following his debut short “MOB,” Kyle Twardowski returned to the university screen with “You’re Not Going Anywhere … Kid.” A one-man operation with a budget directly inverse to his level of enthusiasm, Twardowski promises to keep making movies until he hits 60, whether or not they are considered “successful.”
In three shots, Twardowski proves he can be a thoughtful filmmaker with close attention to detail: the smoking scene – shot in a dark room with spotlights illuminating curls of smoke; the scotch scene – a lit glass is poured for Papa Beard against a black background; and the closing credits – a pair of hands pulls handwritten sheets of paper out of a spot-lit briefcase. Those closing credits are up there with Jared Hess’ buffet intro to “Napoleon Dynamite” (2004) and maybe even as nice as Zach Snyder’s “Watchmen” (2009) opening.
That said, watching the rest of “You’re Not Going Anywhere … Kid” feels like being a teacher watching a smart-capable student settle for Cs. I wish the rest of the film had been as carefully framed and written. With non-sequitur dialogue and jarring cuts, it may look like Quentin Tarantino slaps together his films, but the truth is the guy storyboards like a mad man.
Technical issues aside – because we’re all learning here – the film wastes too much dialogue on unnecessary explanations. Once the audience knows how Brendan got the briefcase, he no longer needs to tell other characters onscreen. Once it is established that Brendan is curious about the contents of the case, it is more effective to show him trying to open it, or other characters questioning him about it, rather than listening to the character continue to mull over the mystery. While Samuel Beckett also mastered the art of letting his characters wonder why “there is nothing to be done,” there are more effective ways to build and maintain suspense without evening mentioning the case.
A film as quick and violent as a street fight, “Virgin Flower” follows a man in a cat mask as he rescues a precious flower from the desecrating hands of thugs.
Director Dylan Montalbo doesn’t know too many actors and lacks funds for explosive special effects. But he loves making violent, action-packed movies, and instead of scaling back his dreams, he took a cue from his favorite Claymation series, “Wallace and Gromit” and decided to create everything he needed himself. After six months of tedious sculpting and frame-by-frame shooting, Montablo created “The Virgin Flower,” with hand-drawn sets and bloody gore in the style of Chinese classic “Riki-Oh” (1991).
Although the short is a product of willpower and ingenuity, its characters and plot are lifted from video game “Hotline Miami,” and the filmmaker’s next project will be based off another video game. While many others before him have successfully adapted video games to the big screen, I can’t help but wonder what original storylines the “one-man Robert Rodriguez” will create when he gains the confidence to do so.