Still from Salon Carmen, one of Fokus’ official selections. Directed by Alex Cherney. (Courtesy of TVM)
Still from Salon Carmen, one of Fokus’ official selections. Directed by Alex Cherney. (Courtesy of TVM)

Now playing: homemade McGill movies

a/Arts & Entertainment by

A few weeks after the Oscars, Student Television at McGill (TVM) is returning with its own annual film festival—albeit on a much smaller scale. The Fokus Film Festival, now in its seventh year, comprises of a series of events, including a 72-hour filmmaking competition and the screening of the submitted films, which will take place at Cinema du Parc on Mar. 21. Thrown into the mix is a viewing of Salt of the Earth (1954), which is the sole connection to this year’s theme of blacklisting and censorship in a Red Scare-era film industry.

Unlike the era’s House Committee on Un-American Activities, TVM does not reject many of its “crowdsourced” films. This brings in mixed results both in the films’ cohesion to a central theme, as well as their overall quality, although a few outstanding pieces are bound to carry the festival.

“We usually play most of what we get,” says festival director Molly Bower. “Most of the films we get are really well made; a lot of thought is put into them. And so we’re always proud to show them.”

Fatal Occupation, the project of students Sarah Leitner, Hannah O’Rear, and Emma Baker, began as an assignment for their class in the study of cinematic horror. The film was conceived during the student uprisings in Montreal—a time when ‘occupation’ described a type of protest more often than a type of employment. The movie’s antagonist works as a security guard; a serial killer with a flashlight as a murder weapon and a penchant for student protestor homicide. The short film follows him across the campus, making reference to both horror movie tropes and McGill in-jokes, and works by making satirical jabs in the right places as well as taking a neutral political stance.

Less than half of the films were shown at Fokus’ press screening, and the 72-hour filmmaking competition took place while this article was being written, so perhaps the best is yet to come. But the most impressive film so far is Ruffle, by Alexander Kasstan. Set to “New Error,” by German band Moderat, and shot in reverse motion, the work chronicles the brief journey of a man walking through a park in France. The chosen track, which advances as steadily as the man’s gait, is featured prominently, and gives the impression of a music video. Although Kasstan didn’t have this concept in mind originally, he has since contacted Moderat, and hopes to get an endorsement from the band.

Much like CKUT, or the McGill Tribune, one of the mandates of TVM is to educate students in the production of a medium that is not widely embraced by a specific McGill department. Fokus realizes this goal by providing a vehicle for students to get their films seen by a broader audience, and encourages those who wouldn’t normally show their films publicly to participate.

“TV McGill is a really great source for learning production,” says Leitner. “That’s where I learned everything, and their equipment is amazing.”

“It’s a skill that takes a long time to develop,” adds Bower. “For the people that are able to learn it while they’re here, without any program at all, it’s a miracle.”

TVM’s Fokus Film Festival runs this Thursday, Mar. 21 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Cinema du Parc (3575 Avenue du Parc). Admission is $6 in advance and $7 at the door.