Five days to film, five days to edit, and only five hours of tape, to create a 10 minute narrative film. That was the challenge given to the three directors chosen to participate in one of the most highly anticipated events of the Seattle Film Festival, the Fly Filmmaking Challenge, and directors Sue Corcoran, Thom Harp, and TJ Martin ably rose to the task, while filmmaker Andy McAllister orchestrated a "making of" documentary about the event.
In addition to the time constraints, the directors were given a short list of "flies in the ointment" - things they had to each include in their films: a copy of Seattle alterna-paper The Stranger or The Stranger logo, a person tripping, and the Seattle Public Library. In addition, each director had to include the same SAG actress in their film, with at least one line.
What was most impressive about this year's Fly Filmmaking Challenge was how adroitly the three directors succeeded in working within their constraints to create three very different, but equally remarkable films.
The first film of the narrative trio, Drivers Ed, by Harp, is the most cinematically traditional of the films. Drivers Ed is the story of a young girl (Jessica Skerritt, in a marvelous debut turn) who has failed the driving portion of the drivers license exam - four times - going out for a driving lesson. Harp's film could have just been a simple, funny, one-dimensional skit. Instead, Harp imbues his characters with depth and feeling and subtle interactions that turn this clever film into a tale full of subtext.
Skerrit sparkles on the screen, bringing the perfect balance to the role of a slightly ditzy girl so hyperfocused on what her college boyfriend is up to that she plows through life running into, and over, everything around her. Also worth noting is Tony Doupe as the driving instructor. He's hilarious to watch, but his subtle interactions with Skerritt really drive the film.
TJ Martin brings a different focus to his film, ...Loves Martha, a love story about Richard (Mark Pinckney), a lonely office worker who falls in love with...a copy machine. Martin's primary experience to date has been in documentaries and music videos, and it shows in his style - Martin has created a sharply visual film, short on dialouge and long on pensive shots and interesting angles.
The tone of the film works very well, and the "dialouge" between Richard and Martha is sublimely funny. Martin has created a nice, funny little romance here - the interaction between Richard is honest and heartfelt and the overall effect is hilariously funny. Look for Martin's excellent use of a sectional sofa - one of the cleverest uses of furniture you're likely to see in film.
The third film, Circus of Infinity by Sue Corcoran, is the most abstract of the three narrative films. Corcoran tells the tale of "Baby Violet", a dwarf raised by circus parents who is finally getting her shot at the big top - by being blown out of a cannon. Baby Violet keeps asking - but is there a net? - a question which the people around her ignore or lie about, except for the surly janitor, who tells her, "Kid, you're gonna get squashed like a melon".
Corcoran, best known as one-half of the Von Piglet Sisters, is best known for her film Gory Gory Hallelujah". Corcoran's fans have come to expect a certain kind of style out of her, and for them she delivers supremely with her usual flair, while at the same time managing to reach beyond the simple shock value of her earlier work to create a film with some philosophy and depth. Whether that vision attracts or repels depends on the individual viewer; at any rate, Corcoran's film was certainly being buzzed about extensively after the screening.
McAllister, primarily a narrative filmmaker, gamely agreed to take on the challenge of creating a documentary about the directors and their films. Rather than taking a strict "behind the scenes" approach to the documentary, McAllister chose instead to create an edgy, almost promotional documentary, using voice-overs with the directors instead of the standard "talking heads" approach with the director sitting in a chair explaining his vision. The documentary almost has a music-video feel to it, an energetic vibe that clicks along at a brisk pace, giving you a feel for each director's unique style and sensibility.
The Fly Filmmaking Challenge is one of the coolest happenings at the Seattle Film Festival. The directors have independently created three unique films, prologued by McAllister's excellent documentary, that complement each other nicely, although each could stand on its own merits. SIFF attendees have one more shot to see the Fly Films before SIFF ends - they show 2PM June 10th at The Egyptian. Don't miss this ticket - these films will be making the rounds of the festival circuit, and you'll be hearing more about all four directors in the future. You can be one of the cool kids, and see the films that got them started, right here at SIFF.