Members of the Montreal community settle in for an entertaining night. (Photos courtesy of TVM)

FOKUS Film Festival gets hearts racing with robust reels

a/Arts & Entertainment/Film and TV by

It was only fitting that to arrive on time last Friday to the FOKUS Film Festival, I had to re-enact one of the great last-minute dash scenes in movie history. The moment my class ended at 5:55 p.m., I was zooming through the Milton-Parc area doing my best Ferris Bueller impression, pushing myself to get to Cinema du Parc before the festival’s 6 p.m. start time. While no slow-motion trampolining was necessary, I succeeded and thankfully, had the benefit of soaking up the fantastic student-run event in its entirety.

FOKUS is hosted annually by the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) service Student Television at McGill (TVM), and serves to showcase the talent of up-and-coming filmmakers in the student community. This year’s installment featured 19 short films categorized as fiction, experimental, documentary, and TVM’s unique 72-hour competition films, all of which were judged for various prizes by both the audience and a panel of judges. The films were worthy of the big screen treatment, displaying strong creativity and a thorough commitment to the filmmaking process.

In the fiction category, I was seduced by J-G Debray’s Valentine’s Day, the story of an unfortunate date that unfolds in a light and amusing narrative style; while Ficol, by Alexandre Vinson, transported the room into a confused and tormented young man’s mind, punctuated by superimposed shots of alcohol and an empty apartment.

The experimental films blew me away. Glitch Walk by Ray Arzaga amazed the rest of the audience, who granted him the prize for the festival’s best film; Arzaga’s film also captured the best experimental film prize, which was determined by the judges. By using an editing of sound and image in harmony with a song, it unified four dancers merging into one. Luke Orlando and Cedric Yarish’s Far Too Awake, which received an honorable mention in the experimental category, relates with finesse the mental state of exhaustion, controlling the camera with full dexterity.

The documentaries were humble and professional. Sophia Loffreda’s Beta Orchestra looked at an emerging style of music-art that moulds together various computer-originated sounds into coherent melodies, while Julia Edelman’s Artscape narrated the story of a saxophonist by compiling a series of alluring shots to accompany the instrumental sounds.

During the intermission, I met with event organizer and U3 Arts student Chantal Africa. She described the process that TVM goes through to judge the 19 films that made it through to the festival out of over 40 applicants.

“We created different criteria for [the categories], but for most of them, cinematography, sound, and editing [were included],” says Africa. “For fiction, it was story and acting; for experimental, it was the ability to evoke feeling and emotion as well as acting; and for documentary, it was subject and presentation.”

The second half of the festival featured the 72-hour competition, a segment that challenges filmmakers to write, produce, film, edit, and turn in short films in under three days—while somehow incorporating the element of “heart beating.”

“It’s a tradition we are running,” explains Africa. “The idea of the secret element changes every year. We announced it at the very beginning of the competition, and we had a 72-hour committee come up with it.”

Taking both straightforward and poetically subtle approaches, the filmmakers incorporated the open-ended “heart beating” requirement in distinct and inventive ways. My personal favourite—which also took the judges’ prize for best 72-hour film—was Vanessa Combe’s Two Tall Blondes, which plunges its viewer into a childhood filled with sophomoric games, softly orchestrated by a calm heartbeat. I also enjoyed Yarish’s second entry in the festival, Bedrooms, an ingenious film that counts down the heartbeats before a young woman’s death.

From start to finish, the theatre was filled with steady amounts of laughter and applause, attesting to the success of a festival that kept the entertainment level high throughout. Every second counted, and my charge to the theatre proved to be well worth it.

Selections and winners from the 2014 FOKUS Film Festival can be viewed in their entirety at www.tvmcgill.com