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?