Just barely in its infancy, the second-annual Isla Vista Digital Film Festival premiered Saturday night in I.V. Theater to a decently packed and ultimately unenthusiastic crowd, despite the variety of programming and passionate filmmaking.
Originally billed as an alternative to the Reel Loud Film Festival, due to the high cost of 16mm film, the festival this year took on the task of representing more unacknowledged and unknown student filmmakers rather than the usual faces in the Film & Media Studies Dept.
Filmmakers like Daniel Gruen, Ainara Aparici, Addison Smith and Omar Najam all had a few shots showing off their talents ranging from hysterical to poignant to awkward.
The festival lineup felt a bit unbalanced, as too many comedies graced the beginning before switching to a more experimental aesthetic then back to comedy again. Although I admit I was laughing my guts out to Casey Sawyer’s horror comedy, “Damn Red Dog,” and reeling at the re-screening of the GreenScreen film, “We’re Trashed,” I would have preferred if some of the more experimental films, like Alexandra Tengco’s swirling “Stopanimo” (which won for best editing) or the near-exploitive but fascinating “Life With George Blackeny” had been placed in between the festival’s stronger comedies. Some of the cheaper comedies should have been dropped from the bill.
Thankfully, the festival programmers included some non-comedy work like Ainara Aparici’s “Thread” (starring BFA actor Paul McCormick in a search for the meaning behind a piece of string) and “Pacifer” (about a man who buys a mail-order bride) and Jess Reigel’s animated piece, “Abiv.” These filmmakers took great risk in their work, and I hope to see more from them in the future.
The most professional-looking film of the evening, Daniel Gruen’s “Wilcox Sex Therapy,” written by Film & Media alum Jameson Jordan, is an incredibly poignant look at a man (wearing an ever-present velvet shirt) and his issues at dealing with sex and relationships. It is definitely my favorite script of Jordan’s filmography, and Gruen showed a lot of promise with his deft direction.
Lest I forget about the live element of the festival, I should mention that the “comedic styling” of Jeff Pollard was either the greatest joke on the audience of all time or a warning that students should never ever do stand up comedy. Ricky Rodriguez brought this strangely Conservative crowd a blast of politically charged messages through the delicate playing of his ukulele. Finally, the Improvability crew had bursts of hilariousness catering their show to the film crowd and kept the audience content while we waited for the award ballots to be tallied.
The Isla Vista Digital Film Festival is still young and has a lot of room for growth. Although it was created as an alternative venue to Reel Loud, this new festival lifts its structure almost directly (films, then live act, then more films; repeat). What makes the digital format different than film? It is a question that needs to be asked as we move into a completely digital age.