Last Wednesday night, the Pacific Film Archive screened the annual “Bay Area Student Film Festival,” a showcase dedicated to exploring the talent and creative perspectives of student filmmakers in the area. The festival accepted submissions of any short films less than 20 minutes — experimental or narrative — from students of Bay Area colleges. The result was a diverse and somewhat discontinuous lineup derived from colleges ranging from UC Berkeley to those across the bay, including San Francisco State and Stanford. Most of the student filmmakers were present themselves, elaborating on their experiences and influences for the audience afterward during a Q&A.
One film, “De((Tr)A(Il))Th Ca(Er(Kennt) Imo(Ni)A(S)” by California College of the Arts student Edward Setina, was even harder to follow than its title. Beautiful matte shots transport a mysterious black-clad protagonist to a bleak, forested dreamscape. He determinedly drags naked, lifeless bodies through the sinister atmosphere, turning the film into a weird, abstract sex dream akin to those of Edgar Allan Poe. What the film lacks in relatability, it more than makes up for in set and art design.
A strong standout was the bubbly “Ingrid,” in which a beautiful young woman incorporates dance moves into her wordless pining for a man to keep her company. Lo and behold, a man with Ken-doll-like vacancy appears on the couch beside her, ready to be posed and played with in every humorous position possible. Wonderfully paired with a bouncy, lighthearted rhythm and set entirely in a studio apartment, the whole thing could easily be adapted into a trendy music video. The film was the creation of Alise Anderson from the Berkeley Digital Film Institute.
From another planet came “St. Patrick’s Day,” from Dolan Chorng of San Francisco State University. It was a short piece of guerilla camera work done in San Francisco on the Irish-themed holiday, shakily capturing the exploits of a group of students as they encounter all of the awkward drunken debauchery nearby. Alongside an orchestral version of a Skrillex song, Chorng himself offers an esoteric narrative obviously mimicking the vocal stylings of “Alien,” James Franco’s character in “Spring Breakers.” This connection is not an assumption — at the Q&A afterward, Chorng listed the Harmony Korine film as his primary influence. However, “St. Patrick’s Day” feels less like a work inspired by “Spring Breakers” than a work completely derivative of it, and one wonders what unique aesthetic the festival curators thought the film satisfied when selecting it for the screening.
The strongest work and a definite audience favorite was “La Campeona,” directed by Jakob Asell and Anna X. Davies from UC Berkeley. The film is a short, gritty documentary following the triumphs and trials of a 17-year-old girl named Martha who is obsessed with boxing and training at a local gym in Oakland. All established gender norms are abolished as Martha refuses to fight female opponents, preferring instead to take on her male counterparts. We meet Martha in the days before a big match that could potentially become her first recorded loss. Intimate scenes with her at the family dinner table with her proud father portray her as the son he always wanted. This father-daughter dynamic would border on controlling if Martha didn’t love boxing so much. But she does, spending all of her time training and shadowboxing in the gym, in every way the active, underdog champion that the film is titled after.
Overall, the 11 films were as varied as the group of students who made them. They ranged from the strikingly earnest and cinematic to the convoluted and pretentious. While the festival itself seemed scattered in its selection process, it succeeded in its one underlying goal: to celebrate the work of passionate student filmmakers in the Bay Area.