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Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Screaming in Silence (2013)

Director: Neil Sparks
Stars: Gabriel Cervantez, Caleb Evans and Jeff Lamar
This film was an official selection at the Phoenix Film Festival in Phoenix in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
I've not made it to as many IFP challenge events as I'd have liked, but I've seen a lot of good films and, well, a lot of not so good films at them. This last year, I saw a lot of great films too, certainly more than I've seen from previous years. A few established production companies raised the ante and a few new kids on the block met their challenge. The unfortunate result was that some of the best local films I've seen thus far lost out on prizes and a few others that have won awards in later festivals didn't even make it to the finals. I didn't envy the Phoenix Film Critics Society at all, but they picked this one from the University of Advancing Technology in Tempe to win as this year's cream of the crop. Personally I'd have gone for La Lucha, which made me tear up yet again when it played as part of the IFP finals set at the Phoenix Film Festival, and it doesn't take much for me to rave about The Memory Ride yet again, but I'm a huge fan of UAT and this is a real peach too.

I can rationalise the judges' decision easily. La Lucha was made by filmmakers who joined IFP as staff members between the time they submitted their short and the time the finals played, so if that film won it could be seen as a conflict of interest. The Memory Ride screened with its original ending, which I hadn't seen before and which notably diminishes the power of the film. But I don't mean to excuse this win. While Mission Control gets better with every viewing, Screaming with Silence hit hard the first time and remains that way however often I see it and whatever it screens alongside. The script by Paul DeNigris, professor of digital video at UAT, is deceptively simple but notably powerful: short on detail but long on depth, if that makes any sense at all before you get to see the film and understand what I mean. I can't really say much about the script, or I'll end up in spoiler territory and, frankly, you deserve to be rooked between the eyes by the twist.
Let's just say that it all has to do with the process of creation, as depicted by an artist struggling with a painting that seems hell bent on fighting him every inch of the way. It knows what it wants to be and that isn't what he wants it to be and I'm sure every creative soul reading this knows what that feels like, whether they paint, write, compose or do anything else cobbled together from sweat, heart and imagination. The deceptive simplicity extends to the technical side; never mind the digital layering of the painting at the heart of the film, which is the most obvious part, notice the foreboding score that bookends the piece, and the white of the canvas moving to the black of the artist's shirt as the film goes literally dark and he fights his demons. Gabriel Cervantez is not flawless but he is excellent and he has some superb moments. Caleb Evans, director of Red Sand, hovers over his painting like a harbinger of doom. The unveiling of the twist is momentous.

At the end of the day, it isn't what this film does that makes it so successful, it's what it doesn't do. Many of the other shorts in competition were about tangibles and there's something about the intangibles, when done right, that always trumps that. Writing about something as abstract as the creative urge is either going to nail something special or fail out of hand, depending on how well it connects to the audience. Adding detail tends to move away from the highs and lows towards the majority of everything in the middle; to adopt the painting metaphor, this is a very impressionistic piece, not a photorealistic image. It's focused enough that we understand thoroughly what's going on but broad enough that the details don't matter, well all but the one that we can't ignore. Maybe what led the judges to vote this above its competition is that it does manage to capture lightning in a bottle, that certain je ne se quoi that takes a foreign language to describe. That's art.

1 comment:

Natasha Vita-More said...

A nicely written synopsis. (What is narrative without the illusion created by the tools. Like a pictoglyph's story, once silent, is heard through the effects of flickering flames animating images across a cave wall.) I look forward to viewing this film! Congratulations!