This year marks the first time that the Arizona Student Film Festival was featured as part of the Phoenix Film Festival, putting up-and-coming filmmakers right next to the professional entrants. The students did not disappoint.
With about 13 of the filmmakers in the audience during the March 28 screening, the crowd enjoyed 20 short films ranging from action to romance created by grade school through high school students. After the viewings, awards for each age level were handed out, including a Best Overall Film award and $1,000 scholarship.
While all the films were commendable and it wasn't clear exactly what criteria the films were judged on, it seemed like the judges were a little off the mark with their winner selections.
In the grade and middle school category, third place went to The Attack of Scorpazilla by Sarah Jordan of Wigwam Creek Middle School, which told the story of a chemically-enlarged giant scorpion and, with the help of Marie Curie, the quest to bring an end to it's destruction.
Second place went to The Candy Dealer by Isaiahs Rivera of Wigwam Creek Middle School, following a student dealing candy after the school had banned it and the girl trying to rat him out.
Alyssa Bartlett also of Wigwam Creek Middle School nabbed the first place award for the grade and middle school category with her short Herbert the Killer Kitten. Similarly to The Attack of Scorpazilla, Bartlett's short followed a team trying to remedy a chemical accident resulting in a giant, destructive kitten. Again, after a little help from Marie Curie, the team succeeds in this part live action, part stop motion film.
But it was the high school awards, which seemed to go toward the more abstract and rather dark films over the story-driven ones, that we questioned.
Third place went to Ruth Daemon by Daniela Mock-Zubia of Metropolitan Arts Institute, which showed the film's namesake, maybe a mayonnaise-eating, obsessively-counting demon, seemingly having a psychotic breakdown after she gets lost in an unknown building.
Metropolitan Arts Institute's Nina Nandin took home second place for Pining. Honestly, we're not entirely sure what happened in this short. It begins with a girl waking up in a dark room, lighting a candle, and then writing with a dip pen. It flashes to the same girl in a classroom, writing in a notebook. The scenes flash back and forward for a bit, and then the girl in the classroom gets a mysterious note on a paper airplane, reading "Hello there..."
Then back in the dark room, the girl finishes whatever she is writing, stows it away in a box, and goes back to sleep. She wakes up again and follows the same routine, but this time, in the alternate reality, she is at a house when she gets another note. Both the version of the girl in the dark room and the house seem panicked.
The film ends with the girl at the house falling in a pool and the girl in the dark room frantically trying to find a surface to keep writing on. But it's unclear which scenes are reality, if the girl in the dark room is a metaphor for the other girl's mind, or if the girl in the room is controlling what happens in the other scenes through her writing.
Finally, Holly Milosevich of Arizona Virtual Academy won both first place in the high school category and Best Overall Film for Lucky Pin. This moody, stop-motion short drama featured a pushpin that held up the entire life story of a girl through pictures until the girl is killed in a car crash. With an abundance of shallow depth of field, excellent stop-motion, and a clear story arch, we see why this film was chosen as the winner.
However, Final Exit Trailer by Dominic LaRovere of Chandler High School or Late for Work by Erik Nakamoto of Hamilton High School deserved some nods, too.
Perhaps LaRovere's entry was discounted because it was technically a trailer, but with the expert cinematography, succinct storytelling, and overall professionalism, we thought this short would have been a shoe-in to win.
Nakamoto's film was a charming, funny story of a man frantically trying to figure out why his car won't start after waking up late for work. With nothing more than one actor and a car, Nakamoto created a skit-like short with a character the audience could root for and empathize with.
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Regardless of who walked away a winner, it was an impressive and entertaining showing at the 2015 Arizona Student Film Festival.
Phoenix Film Festival continues through Thursday, April 2, at Harkins Scottsdale 101. Visit www.phoenixfilmfestival.com.