From the kicky, folk-inspired music for “Bicycle Day” to the surreal sepia tones of “Pass the Parcel” to the sentimentality of “California!,” UCSB’s 20th annual Reel Loud was a “reel” success last Friday night.

The festival featured 14 student-made silent short films accompanied by live music. As the event’s pamphlet says, “Reel Loud combines the nostalgia of silent cinema with the fresh, modern interpretations of UCSB filmmakers.”

All of the shorts were shot using 16 mm film — a testament to the preservation of non-digital media as an art form.

With a fantastic showing of films and performers, it is no wonder this year was the first sold out Reel Loud in six years.

The “Greatest Show on Earth” was given a vintage circus theme, and the pre-show included free popcorn, cotton candy and other treats. However, it was truly the films that stole the show that night.

Genres varied from comedy to horror. This is the second Reel Loud I have attended and I was truly impressed by the range explored by the student filmmakers this year. Some shorts toyed with lighter, comedic plots — like “Love Monster,” which follows the pursuits of a mad scientist who tries to create the perfect woman, only to discover that her most personal parts are “mismatched” — while others chose more serious themes — like “Silent Heart,” which tells the story of a deaf dancer and the violinist who inspires her to perform.

“Pass the Parcel” — a short set in the Australian outback about a mysterious package and a battle to the death — truly stole the show, taking home three of the five awards for cinematography, editing and “Audience Choice.”

The hilarious, charming and self-aware “Legend of Lotus Castle” impressed both the audience (the crowd literally roared with laughter throughout the short) and festival judges alike, winning the “Golden Reel” award for best overall film.

I picked “California!” as my favorite for the “Audience Choice.” It dug up memories of driving past windmills in the desert on the way to the Coachella music festival, wandering the streets of my home in the Bay Area and hiking through the gorgeous wilderness of Santa Cruz. But what I enjoyed most about this film is that it made me nostalgic even for things unknown to me, inspiring me to further explore the world around me.

“Elixir,” a film about a scientist working furiously to meet a deadline, was a close second for its professionalism and absolutely fantastic story line — besides, as a journalist, I can definitely relate to experiencing deadline anxiety.

I must admit that the special showing of “Oeddy Bear,” a film presented at the first ever Reel Loud and featuring both Reel Loud panel judge Johnny Shaw, and UCSB acting professor Jackie Apodaca, was the highlight of my night. The film was fantastically shot, well written and hilarious — everything I could have wanted in a short film and a great way to wrap up the evening.

For an audiophile, Reel Loud proved to be a fantastic showing of musical talent. Finger Folk rightfully nabbed the win for best musical accompaniment for their “soundtrack” to the Isla Vista-centered “Bicycle Day.” And, may I just say, holy crap were they fantastic. When the band struck their first chord, I literally thought to myself, “This is why I’m here.”

I scrounged around on Facebook and unearthed the band’s page, complete with “Folkin ‘Round in A,” the winning song. No joke, finding that jam made my day. The song is certainly better live, as it is hard to recreate the energy and whimsy the band brought to the stage, but the recording is definitely more than worth a listen. If Finger Folk released an album, I would buy it without hesitation.

Another favorite was the music for “Silent Heart,” which drove the plot better than almost any of the other films. When the deaf dancer was alone there was no music. However, as the musician drew his bow over the strings of his violin, so did the live musicians and the effect was gorgeous.

Of course, I could not conclude this article without mentioning the various performing acts in-between the films: singers and acrobats and hip hop dancers, oh my! Kudos to the Reel Loud organizers for picking a group of performers that represented a variety of interests and art forms.

I am glad to say that I spent last Friday night, one of my last weekend nights in Isla Vista before graduation, very well. My only regret is that I will not be here next year to enjoy another great showing from some of the many truly inspiring artists at this university.


(Full disclosure: A number of current and former Nexus editorial staffers were Reel Loud presenters, filmmakers and musicians. I really tried not to let this influence me, I promise.)