The 48 Hour Film Festival, or Why I Was at Cinebarre at 9 a.m.

As someone who is rarely in bed before 3 a.m., the idea of being anywhere at 9 in the morning is anathema to me. But when I was asked to be one of the judges for this year’s 48 Hour Film Festival—along with Brenda Lilly and Jan Powell—and was promised caffeine, I couldn’t say no, despite the decidedly un-Hankean hour that seemed destined to only increase my purported crankiness. I couldn’t resist in part because the entire idea of the festival fascinates me.

If you don’t know, the concept is that the filmmakers are assigned a genre to work in, a prop that must be incorporated into the film, a line of dialogue that has to be used, and a specific character, and they’re limited to a seven-minute running time. In this year’s rules, the prop was an umbrella, the line was “That’s not the way I heard it,” and the character was an environmentalist named Vicki or Victor Putterman. That’s all—except that they have exactly 48 hours in which to write, shoot, edit, score the film and turn it in. Think it sounds easy? You try it. Considering I once spent about a year and a half working on a 30-minute film, the concept sounds positively Herculean to me.

Frankly, I’m amazed that anyone can make anything even marginally watchable under those conditions, so the generally high level of quality we encountered last Wednesday morning with the 27 entries that made the deadline was a delightful shock. The films were nothing if not eclectic—and many of them were also unbelievably creative.

When the dust settled, we had two primary contenders for the big award—with some very interesting side offerings for other nods of recognition. For instance, SPFE’s That Was a Close One mayn’t have been the best entry (though it was certainly good), but it undeniably had the most creative use of the assigned umbrella prop. Similarly, Team UNCA’s clever The Adventures of Agnes Fairbottom got Best Use of the Required, “That’s not the way I heard it” Line, snagged a Best Actress nod for Kathryn Langwell and took Best Use of the Character. General Error 41’s EnviroMental took Best Graphics (their titles were terrific), while Fate Mountain Films was awarded Best Costumes for Convesations With doG, and Jimmy Velvet Productions’ Runnin’ Shine nabbed Best Musical Score. It looked like we needed a new category for 47th Hour Films’ Tall, Dark and Waterproof (I suggested “Umbrella Porn”), but we settled on Best Choreography.

The big battle was between two outstanding entries: Peak Definition Production’s True Colors and We Make Pictures Move’s Cosmo of 1932. In fact the two tied for Best Cinematography. In the end, the thoroughly beguiling Cosmo won out for Best Picture with True Colors, which also won Best Editing, as runner-up. Cosmo also walked off with Best Song, Best Special Effects, Best Sound Design, Best Actor (Miles Rice), Best Writing and Best Direction! It really is that good.

Audience Awards (given in groups, depending on which batch of films they saw) went to Combustion Films’ Tails-Side Up, Sol Cinema Productions’ Van (dammit) the Musical, and (no surprise) Cosmo of 1932.

Was it worth getting up so early to be a part of the process? Yes, indeed. But will somebody please talk me out of entering the competition myself next year?

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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14 thoughts on “The 48 Hour Film Festival, or Why I Was at Cinebarre at 9 a.m.

  1. Terri Conrad

    It would have been (& still would be) nice if the other 19 teams who made it in the contest got to hear a little something about their (our) movies, too. As you said, creating a mini-movie in 48 hours is quite an accomplishment, so give us the consideration of SOMETHING as far as feedback. Thanks – terri of Rapido Productions

  2. Ken Hanke

    I would be glad to, but there’s the simple limitation of space to factor into this. Now, if you’d tell me which film we’re dealing with, I’d be more than happy to comment on it here where those restrictions don’t apply.

  3. Terri W Conrad

    First of all, thanks for responding! And yes, comments on our movie would be more than welcomed!! I’m part of Rapido Productions. We produced Simply Amazing (Superhero) for this year’s project. Thanks again.

  4. Eric Larson

    Ken, thanks for volunteering your time as a judge this year. It’s normally a thankless job. As long as you’re giving feedback to teams unmentioned in the awards, Team Stellar Media would love to hear your feedback on “Immortal Longings.” We were proud of our submission and had a great time, so we didn’t feel short-changed.

  5. Terri W Conrad

    Oops! Forgot to mention where you can find our movie… YouTube, along with all the other zillion. Rapido Productions, Simply Amazing, 2007 Asheville 48 Hour Film Project.
    Thanks again :-)

  6. Ken Hanke

    Apologies that I have yet to get to any of this — the weekends are my busiest time.

    I do remember SIMPLY AMAZING, but will look at it again. IMMORTAL LONGINGS is not ringing a bell by title (I remember the films, but keeping 28 titles in my head is another matter). Is it also on You Tube?

  7. Ken Hanke

    By the bye, actual links would help. I am not turning up either film on You Tube on my own.

  8. Ken Hanke

    Okay, I watched them both again. Thanks for the links, by the way. And I had remembered them both, even if not by title.

    Really, both of these are terrific films — especially given the time factor and the constraints of being handed a genre, a character, a line and a prop. Actually, they’d both be pretty darn good even without those built in impediments. God knows, I’ve sat through student films — advanced student films — that weren’t nearly so entertaining.

    SIMPLY AMAZING is a charming little movie. There are a lot of good things in this one. Especially good is the flashback to the bank robbery. That’s a really nice touch. So is the climax itself (nice editing and nice use of fast motion) and the TV news wrap-up. If I had any one criticism to level, it’s simply that the humor is sometimes a little too broadly played for my taste. But that’s just a personal thing.

    IMMORTAL LONGINGS is truly noteworthy on a number of fronts. First of all, it’s an inspired use of location. But more, it really captures something of the spirit of such a location (alright, so HART is a little bright and shiny for a rundown theatre, but still…). The writing is often very sharp (“I’m starting to chafe from all these costume changes”), and the inclusion of that outburst of THE MUSIC MAN (“Pick a little, talk a little”) is a spot-on evocation of a couple of theatre obsessives. The flashbacks are good, too, and the bit with the Mary Poppins-esque umbrella exit is hysterical. Most of the stage stuff is very nicely done — the effect may be better on the computer because I don’t remember the stark blackness of the background from seeing it at the Cinebarre.

    Really, nice work all around on both films. One thing I will say that makes the winning entry and the runner up stand out is that both do their damndest to minimize that “video” look. You may notice that black and white (even more so sepia) tends to look more like a movie than does color. Color is very hard to light effectively on video and in a hurry especially. Also, the more you can use movie editing techniques (not the clever doo-dads that video editing suites offer) — insert shots, regular dissolves, fairly elaborate shot breakdown — the more your product looks like a movie. I realize that I’m probably suggesting too much for projects done in such a rush, but I know these are the sorts of things that a judge is looking for.

    I do have a question — are these first efforts for either of you? If so, I’m even more impressed!

  9. Eric Larson

    I really appreciate you taking the time to give us feedback on our short film. Yes, film is a misnomer when we’re working in video – and I wondered if we would be able to give it enough of a movie look. This is something for us to think about next year.

    I’ve directed a feature-length movie working with actors in another language – that I had 30 days to shoot. But this festival provides a singular challenge of time, and I like to work under pressure. It really demands clear-thinking and quick execution.

    Once again, thank you for your time!

  10. Ken Hanke

    I think the running time limit works against getting past that video feel. It’s not quite long enough for the viewer to get past the look. That, I fear, is insurmountable, so something else is required.

    The idea of working under pressure isn’t a bad one. But then I’ve been trying to get a film (video — film has become impossibly expensive) started for nearly two years, so pressure is something I apparently need just to get past the basic inertia!

  11. Terri W Conrad

    Thank You so much for taking the extra time and effort. The feedback is great and after all the work, it’s just nice to feel the work is appreciated. So again, thanks!!!
    Our team participated last year and made a funny spy flick. We didn’t win anything then either but had a blast doing it. Most of our work crew has been in either TV production &/or acting thru hobbies and work, so we all bring a different piece of experience to the task. The team leader, Jack, has been a movie making fool (starting in film) since he was 12. He’s produced mini-movies before (without the time constraints) and also shot/edited/produced a 30 minute TV show that used to run on Charter (the WNC Visitor’s Guide). But mostly, we’re a bunch of pals who like goofing around with ideas and a camera.
    Thanks again for your time!!!!

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