As a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and San Diego Film Critics Society, I often get requests to do events. Sometimes I’m attending the Critics’ Choice Awards talking to John Travolta while waiting for my drink. Another time, I was interviewing and hosting the Q&A for Kevin Pollak and the cast of his film at the San Diego International Film Festival.
Sometimes it’s smaller events. A long time friend once asked me to come host a movie night at an old folks living facility in Vista. It was a crowd of only 50 residents and a handful of nurses, but I had a blast doing trivia, giving out prizes, and then introducing a movie they were going to watch.
A few weeks ago a message came to the San Diego Film Critics from Leigh Francisco, one of the teachers at Scripps Ranch High School. Leigh, along with art teacher Anne Brady and video production teacher Greg Wilson, were having their 2nd annual Falcon Visual Arts Festival. Leigh asked if any of the critics would be interested in judging some student films, and I jumped at the chance. I’ve always had a blast the times I’ve been asked to judge films at festivals. That’s why critics get into this business, to watch movies; as many movies as we can, even if they aren’t by Scorsese, Tarantino, or Anderson (Paul Thomas or Wes). Heck, some of these Scripps Ranch High students might be the next big filmmaker (and after watching Nick Cassol’s film five times, I think it might be him).
The underclassmen did five minute shorts while the juniors and seniors did 10 to 15 minute films. The only shame of that is that I had wished Cassol’s movie “A Very Boring Book” (which certainly wasn’t a boring film), would’ve been a regular feature length. I could’ve watched his Felix Fischer for hours. He can type with one hand, and even take notes in the shower with such je ne sais quoi.
The students voted on the theme for the films and “disenchantment” won. They were also able to choose the format they would go with — animation, live action, comedy, thriller…all chosen, written, and edited by them. It’s amazing to think, when I was a kid, we merely built race cars out of wood that we raced with our Cub Scouts troop (and who are we kidding, our dads did most of the work). In these films, the parents didn’t help build cars out of wood, but in many of the films, lent their cars to be used on screen. Cassol beat a guy against the dashboard of his parents’ minivan, as the car raced out of control towards a cliff (no animals, or automobiles, were hurt in the filming).
I spent the week watching student films, and it was a blast. Aside from voting on best editing, directing, acting, and film…there was also a section where I could write notes to the young filmmakers. Often times, I talked about the various music scores. In “The Lonely Astronaut, I loved the musical score that the filmmaker created himself. Other movies used classical pieces (Cassol used some Vivaldi; have I mentioned how much I love this kid’s movie?).
If there was a performance I liked, I tried to mention that. Zoe Thomas, who wrote, directed, and starred in “Redacted” — cracked me up everytime she was on screen. Her friend would want to talk about being followed, and she’d turn her head and cavalierly ask him to clarify….before blathering on about what was going on with her life. It could be about a sweater she got or a spider on her mirror. It reminded me of that same feeling I had watching Ellen Page sarcastically go through life in Juno.
My wife and I arrived at Scripps Ranch High to check out the event, while I’m sure 99.3% of all the other Scripps Ranch residents watching movies that day, were watching Avengers: Endgame.
Since folks were voting on some of the art on display, we went to check that out. Thanh Thai impressed me with a piece called “Unraveling.” It had a portrait of someone that had a sort of Van Gogh style, and each square showed more paint and craziness in the face. It reminded me of The Who album “Face Dances.”
There were a few pieces by Kayla Swift we both loved. One of them has a girl reaching up for the sky, but you can see the sky is an ocean. You see the shadow of the girl, and you wonder how it was created. There’s an explanation, with the quote, “The elements of dream and mystery beckon you to search.”
Another piece she submitted was a self-portrait, with broken pieces of a CD all around it, with her holding a green skull from a creature. It reminded me of something that would’ve been in the movie Black Swan. The cutest thing was when looking at it, I saw Kayla come by with her grandmother, who couldn’t be more proud. She took out a camera to take a picture of that piece, but then said to her granddaughter, “I’m not sure I get it. What are you trying to say with this?”
It reminded me of when I wrote my first bits for a radio station morning show I was involved in. My grandma rarely understood my jokes, even the ones I’d have her contribute a voice-over for.
Anyway, if you ask my opinion, Kayla Swift has more talent than Taylor Swift.
After we voted on the art, we bought some pizza. Sales of all the food and refreshments benefitted different departments at the school. So I didn’t feel guilty buying five slices of pepperoni. Don’t judge! It was for the kids.
One booth was run by the drama department; I bought two bags of M&Ms. I told the girls selling the donuts for the Red Cross group, that the Red Cross is going to have to send an ambulance after I have a heart attack from eating all the goodies.
When the film screening began on the grassy quad in the middle of campus, I was pleasantly surprised to see one I hadn’t watched the previous week. It was called “Big Foot” and it was done by the Broadcast Journalism class. It was hysterical. My favorite bit was watching Big Foot smash up the library in search of Jane Goodall books.
After all the freshman films were shown, we decided it was too cold to sit for all the upperclassman flicks. And since I had seen them all, I figured I’d watch the first one shown which was my favorite — A Very Boring Book. It was nice to see it on the big screen. I realized after watching it a 5th time, that’s the same amount of times I watched my favorite movie of last year, another “book” movie — Green Book.
Now, I didn’t get permission from Nick Cassol (or his co-director Max Messmer) to put a link to his movie on here, but I’m going to anyway. Hey — I’m sure he didn’t get permission from Pixar to call his company Nixar!
To view this great short film go to: https://drive.google.com/file/d/13msqSwbp945CjyZBiN2Cc-xV-bB6CCS3/view
To donate to these various visual arts programs: https://srhsfoundation.org/designated-donation