For the 16th year, the annual Reel Loud Film Festival filled Campbell Hall last Friday night at 8 with images from the silent films created by UCSB students and sounds provided by the accompanying live music acts. The festival, a UCSB favorite, screens an interesting ensemble of short films hatched from the greatest – and strangest – minds of our student body. There are only two rules for the films in the festival: The films must be under six and a half minutes long and they cannot have soundtracks, only live music or dramatic accompaniment. Between films, a number of groups hailing from Isla Vista to as far as Camarillo performed, including live performances by Winslow, the Hairbrain Scheme, Full Switch Coma, White Collar, Boombox Orchestra, and the Urban Hip-Hop Dance Team. Also returning from last year’s festival was a multimedia pre-show art exhibit.
The theme of this year’s festival was “Carnivale: Reel Specimens of the Unknown,” and was strikingly promoted with tarot card-themed posters and tickets. This year’s festival featured 15 films, all shot and edited on 16-mm film and written, directed, acted and produced by UCSB talent.
Several films in this year’s festival, particularly “The Lemonsnake” and “Jonathan’s Tree” – two claymation shorts – were strangely endearing and entertaining. And on the comedic front, “CSOwned” proved to be an entertaining campus-crossing revenge fantasy, and “Love Muffin” brought the wonky surrealism and some giggles. Finally, in the category of interesting technical challenges, “Foup” impressed the audience with its small running length, and “Passing Tide Away” compensated for its painfully obtuse Meshes of the Afternoon-like visuals of “Passing Tide Away” with a beautiful score.
Shooting on real film is no small chore, but a few films demonstrated an incredibly poor handling of the medium. The predictable and unamusing “Timon’s Friendship Adventure” used such a ridiculous number of title cards for its nonexistent plot that it hardly qualifies as a silent film. And, although it’s hard to bash a film as cheerful and harmless as “Pink Slip,” the old-time Chaplin-esque antics simply didn’t mesh with UCSB’s equally dated “how many concrete blocks can we stack here?” architecture.
This year’s festival had the biggest musical presence yet, boasting nearly as many live acts as films. All of the performers were enthusiastic, and the music was strong on all fronts; some of the films were very much eclipsed by their accompaniment. The festival opened with the always-interesting The Hairbrain Scheme bulging out of the most Lycra seen on human bodies outside of a Spider-Man flick. All of the other acts followed with a fairly high degree of professionalism, and each band had the opportunity to make an impression, with most performing two songs and many having more than one appearance. Although a strong part of the festival, the tremendous amount of musical performances sometimes eclipsed the whole ‘film’ festival thing, making the festival feel like a battle of the bands with wacky music video accompaniment.
Maybe it’s unfair to expect a show that rivals its predecessors. Despite an equally large roster as last year’s festival, however, there were few films that stood out this year. While last year’s show sported such treasures as “The Playmate” and “Super Ripe,” the films presented this year exhibited the same spirit of fun and experimentation without ever really reaching the level of technical style and entertainment achieved by their predecessors.