Monday, May 27, 2019

Judging the Gorst Underground Film Festival - The GUFF

First off, I would like to address that today is Memorial Day 2019. In these trying times when wrong is sold as seemingly right and confusion is the rule of the day, we need to reflect on who we are and who we want to be. Part of that we celebrate today, in how we remember the fallen, those who protected us and died in our service.

"On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance later that month. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed."

But part of that is also in how we treat the living who return, broken and hopeful, and what our orientation is and should be in going into the future.

“Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.” – Charles de Gaulle

Now, on to the Film Festival:

I was a judge in a local indie "underground" film festival. The first annual 2018 Gorst Underground Film Festival (GUFF). We're gearing up now for the 2nd annual 2019 version in a few months on September 7, 2019. I was only one of a few judges so regarding my voting. Some I rated highly were also rated highly by other judges and the winner I chose actually won overall. While a few I had liked and rated highly didn't get rated quite as highly by some other judges. Just how it goes.

Our judging wasn't made public or shared with the filmmakers. It can be problematic. To be sure. But I thought I would share some of my notes on some of the films I watched.

Like it or not, here it is. I will admit as the films flew past, I realized I'd started my ratings rather high as the quality of the submitted films was higher than I had expected. I was pleased to discover that. Judging is a learned behavior. With time and experience.

I'm sure I'll get better at it. As a long time screenwriter and a newly minted narrative filmmaker (I'm working now on my second film), I do have some insight from years of growing up loving cinema in the classical sense, and through my college cinema classes as well as through perfecting my own screenwriting and filmmaking skills.

About that. You do the best you can as a judge, using your experience and orientation in life and trying to be enlightened, not of a limited scope. You try to be neutral, academic a fan, a viewer.

I believe in being an advocate for the festival filmmakers. One judge may see things differently, may have more or less understanding about a film they watch. Or may be more or less educated about life, the world or cinema. But that is part of the package you have to accept in entering any film festival.

It's also why there is not usually just one judge and uses an overall average to decide a generally well-accepted film as the winner. Ratings are 1-10.

First up?

Beloved Beast - Director: Jonathan Holbrook

There is a lot to digest in Beloved Beast by filmmaker Jonathan Holbrook who mostly pulled it off. For a film pushing three hours in length one really needs to bring it. I think this could have worked very well instead as a three-episode miniseries in Twin Peaks fashion. Though perhaps it wouldn't have worked so well simply as a 90-minute film, though perhaps one with a sequel. Then, however, I'd have considered making it a trilogy and writing, or picking up some cutting room floor footage and putting it back into the project.

The film seemed to me to be unmistakably from the Lynchian universe of bizarre scenes and characters as well as uncomfortable moments being extended longer than is well, comfortable. Some scenes, though well-executed could have been shorter; though this could be argued as the director's divergence from Lynch.

While Lynch is succinct, Holbrook leans into the indulgent. Other reviews have noted Tarantino in the beginning, but I noticed a shift, so this seemed to me to be far more inside Lynch than Quentin.

What Lynch does is nearly impossible to reproduce. He's a master at it. To attempt it is audacious. Still, to approach it is commendable. Die-hard Lynch fans will certainly appreciate moments in this film as remarkable, though perhaps, too far between. The usual suspect with a long film. After all, the less one speaks the more genius may (seem to) appear.

On the other hand, if you don't like Lynch (or for that matter, Tarkovsky), perhaps watch another film. At times the film misses the mark in going beyond or even not quite far enough. If Lynch's works were an unwavering strand of titanium, Beloved Beast is the vibrating thread striving to be nearby it.

While one is unwavering and solid the other vibrates at times either too far or too near to its goal. Though how often and for how long is for the viewer to decide. I found the intermittent narration about the "Rabbit King" unnecessary, pulling the viewer out of the scene. At times even diluting the scene's crafted effect.

Other times it nailed it. Though the dialog at times can be too spot on. That too is very Lynchian. Still, the subtext here could be better executed in support of the underlying structure. As well, motifs and subplots could be better tied in, especially for a work of this length. As could the pathways or "roads" between characters. Something Lynch is adept at if not auteur.

All that being said, I found myself intrigued by the film at times. There are moments where the Grand Guignol, perhaps needing its moment, stepped outside itself into a wry piece of humor. More than once I had had to cringe or laugh out loud at something obviously planned that way. Overall it was a fairly well-executed film that needed restraint in the editing bay.

"A story can be both concrete and abstract, or a concrete story can hold abstractions. And Abstractions are things that really can't be said so well with words." - David Lynch

Man In Camo - Director: Ethan Minsker

A well produced and interesting documentary on a creative, rather fascinating art community builder. One of my most favorite docs that I've seen of late. Ethan Minsker is a force to meet if you ever get the chance. He actually flew in from New York, this native of Washington DC. Check out his other films and books, too. His documentary was creative as expected. I didn't think it was too long as someone said in the Q&A afterward.

It was in a way a tour de force of documentary filmmaking and I highly recommend it. His documentary actually won the festival.

Missed Connections Anthology -  Directors: Pamela Falkenberg, Jack Cochran 

A familiar topic shown in an interesting and entertaining light.

1/2 - Director: Raffaele Salvaggiola

Some beautiful shots in this film with some very decent cinematography and an interesting, well acted and properly directed story. A film no doubt by a lover of cinema for lovers of cinema with inherent references to some classic films and auteur directors.

Path of Egress - Director:  Vincent F. Baran

An audacious effort, if the filmmakers brought up some of its problematic issues to the level of other better-produced parts, they might have a winner. Audio / ADR levels/soundtrack, some editing issues, and a few other things needed better execution. Not to say there was a problem with the music soundtrack which was pretty good.

In the end, they followed my own belief in no matter what, give it a good ending and it pulls people up to a better consideration overall of your project. While a not so good ending can make a better film seem worse than it is. In the end, an entertaining crime flick with some decent humor, intense scenes, and some interesting elements.


Hard to know what to say on this one. Kudos for finishing! Keep making films? I'm not sure where this filmmaker is headed, but somewhere I think. As for this piece..."Refuse" as a noun refers to food waste, scraps, or garbage. As a verb, refuse means to reject. As a double entendre, we have a film which exhibits and supports both of these definitions.

In the protagonist's refusal to help, he does so anyway but is denied, or refused. In asking for help in order to help, he is refused any attention. In standing at the bridge he seems to refuse to be affected by the beautiful scenery.

In breaking the fourth wall, he refuses to play the part of actor for that of the interactor. This didn't quite work for me, or others I spoke with about it. But if this is what the filmmaker was proposing then he may be evolving into something after producing more of these and gaining skills in doing so.

And so in the end, we as audience would also gain. A curious piece to be sure.

Search Engines - Director: Russell Brown

The film, Search Engines, isn't my usual cup of tea. But I laughed out loud several times watching this. Likable characters, well acted, this was just a sweet little message movie that walks the fine line of bashing one over the head with a message, and it's up to the viewer to decide if they maintained their balance or fell off. For me? Well, I kind of liked it.

Single Palm Tree - Director: Puthiyavan Rasiah

Rating, seven on execution, ten on message. I've seen other such films over the years from those disenfranchised as in Ireland, Syria, Lebanon and places in Africa and elsewhere. A noble endeavor. The world is finally hearing the truth about abuse by governments worldwide toward subsets of their citizens, typically minorities disliked for ridiculous reasons such as religion, caste, or simply socioeconomic status. And the world finally but slowly reacting.

This has to stop, to be sure. Sadly, the world has also gone more autocratic, xenophobic and nationalistic. You could tell Single Palm Tree was a labor of love, social responsibility, or both. It is a film whose message far outweighs its capability in execution.

As there are three codirectors it would appear the directing is qualitatively inconsistent for obvious reasons. Subtitles are at times more problematic than usual for subtitles for basic issues of mechanics (that is, unneeded spaces in words). Which in my experience are nearly always lacking in transliteration, to begin with.

 Some of the actors seem not to be actors and I'd even go so far as to say the casting is for some almost up to community theater standards while others are quite good. Overall some of the production is well executed but most are simply inconsistent. Cinematography sadly fails at times, while at other times, is quite beautiful

The Witches of Dumpling Farm - Director: Martin J Pickering

A nice effort, interesting if a bit uneven film but with some truly scary moments making it worth the effort. Just when you think it's done surprising you, it hits you again. Don't worry about the logic of it all in the first half, just let it happen.

Once the action gets going, they gain their stride. If the Pickering brothers keep on this direction they will be a force to reckon with. You almost wonder a few times...are these guys Sam Raimi's cousins across the pond?

So! Those are just a few of the 43 submissions we had received. The festival itself was a great time and I highly recommend showing up for this year's festival. It is in a rustic location just outside Port Orchard and Bremerton, WA, in Gorst.

For this 2019 season, we already have 48 submissions! I'm currently working on my own film, Gumdrop Sampson, based as a prequel to my short true-crime horror story, Gumdrop City. Obviously, I won't be allowed to judge my own film.

Kelly Hughes, local horror indie director and all around friendly raconteur may also have something in this festival which he started and runs. His new music video with Italian band Postvorta's song, "We're Nothing" is something to experience and has been making the rounds at festivals this year. Kelly also has a new documentary "Hush, Hush, Nellie Oleson!"

From a write up on Kelly's documentary: "After shooting a low-budget horror film, director Kelly Hughes gets a chance to work with his childhood idol Alison Arngrim, the actress who played the scheming Nellie Oleson on TV's Little House on the Prairie. But fitting Arngrim into the finished product becomes an exercise in futility as Hughes shoots increasingly absurd (and gory) scenes with Arngrim that don't have much to do with the original plot. Featuring extensive interviews with the cast and vivid film clips, Hush...Hush, Nellie Oleson! is a love letter to low-budget filmmakers and the former child stars who enable them."

There you have it. Judging is not the easiest thing in the world to do. You have to sit and evaluate, judge and select a lot of films and some are way too long, while others are way too short. It's a rewarding experience to do especially if you are submitting your own works.

Some judges admittedly don't have a clue what they are doing while others are far too critical. It is that just right spot you have to attain and maintain through the course of a season's judging one has to try to find. Which is why you never submit to only one festival and why you select your festivals with care, choosing those most reasonable for your project and what you're trying to achieve.

That being said if you are a filmmaker and you have finished a project, submit! And congratulations because it is a labor of love and effort unlike anything I've experienced elsewhere in my life.

One more thing to filmmakers, believe in yourself and believe in your project. Here is a video that exemplifies what I'm talking about from Filmmaking Stuff.

Now. Got out and be brilliant. Show us! We WANT you to succeed!

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