Dinerwood Level 4: What We Saw at Welcome Diner's Short Film Festival in Downtown Phoenix

Potential filmmakers and groups of friends, professional actors, and drunk patrons all got creative for the camera during Dinerwood: Level 4, a 48-hour film challenge that culminated with a screening at Welcome Diner on Wednesday, September 14.

Ten teams entered their three-minute films for a chance to be declared "the best" by a panel of judges: Jason Ayers of Flowers Craft Beer & Wine, Connor Descheemaker of Local First Arizona, Christy McClendon of New Pathways for Youth, and Kelsey Pinckney of Four Chambers Press. This year's video game theme meant creative takes on gaming classics like Space Invaders, Frogger, and Donkey Kong. Each production had to include the same prop (a watermelon) and same line ("Mario, your princess is in another castle"), and the rules ended there.

For the fourth installment of the Garfield film fest, Welcome Diner (the event's main sponsor and host site) held two 30-minute screenings with an awards ceremony in between and $1 PBRs for a crowd of more than 100. Some sat at tables, others on rented bleachers spilling out into the street, all paying rapt attention to the weird premises and steady camera work on the screen.

In the end, every team left with an award, including best cinematography for Mr. Schreiner's Final Fantasy from The Yonder Peasants, which showed us how the sausage was made; best dialogue for Thought Crime's Marooned, whose creators said they "had a list of curse words we replaced with nonsense"; and best use of a prop for Beeing / Semicolon's Sylvia, which turned a watermelon-flavored Arizona Iced Tea can into a talking watermelon.

But some were truly the best of the best, leaving us wondering, "Man, why can't we be that creative in 48 hours?"

Well, there's always next year.

Best Film: The minds behind Tyler Perry Studios 2 took home a swag bag and a $480 check for their film Wasted, crowned this year's "Best Film." The short chronicled a conversation between two men, living out their own version of Grand Theft Auto. Wasted was well cast and funny, making good use of both the genre and its accompanying criteria. And it managed to be both hilarious and topical in less than three minutes. (White guys playing a real-life Grand Theft Auto don’t get arrested? Color us shocked.) It also deserved an award for “Best Use of Ironic Hawaiian Shirt.”

Our runner-up: Wasted left us thinking, "What the hell did we just watch?" and "Can I see that again?" simultaneously, capping off the night perfectly as the final screening. The right film won.

Garfield's Choice Winner: The true testament to audience favorite was the "Garfield's Choice" award, where users took to Welcome Diner's Instagram page to cast their vote for "best film."

The title went to Dirty Deeds from Schwifty Flicks, which also won "Best Statement" for its heavy-handed commentary (three minutes leaves no time for nuance) on the future of the former Circle Records building. It was refreshing to see an actual issue on screen in this forum; one that clearly resonated with the downtown audience, despite lacking the verbal recognition and laughs others like Sylvia and Marooned racked up. But the message was there and that’s what mattered, hitting home during a final scene where the corporate buyers head east to try the same tactic at Welcome Diner.

Our runner-up: If Dirty Deeds shined a light on the seedy goings-on in downtown development, Kenny Barrett's Guitar Hero: Origins highlighted a handful of the area's already thriving local businesses. Through the premise of finding out who "guitar heroes" are, we followed Barrett from his own small business, GROWOp, to Jobot, Cobra Arcade Bar, and Antique Sugar. With others filmed across the city's scattered suburbs, it was nice to see the surrounding area on screen, which is why Barrett won "Best Tour of Downtown."

Best Use of Genre: It'd be pretty hard to top the overlay graphics and attention to gamer detail that dominated Prince Charley's Date Date Revolution. Player 1 choosing between "friend zone" and "true love"? Select carefully. Call your date by the wrong name? Minus 10 points, or 20. Accidentally imply she's fat on the first date? You lose. Date Date Revolution started the night off strong with a relatable story (guy picks girl up at her apartment for a date, awkwardness ensues) and got us hooked on the evening's video game theme. The three-minute limit meant we were left wanting more resolution (the film ends with the guy ducking as a watermelon comes hurling toward him) and also had us asking, "Who makes a smoothie before going out to dinner?"

Our runner-up: Dannon Mathews' Don't Get Smashed, which was essentially a home movie of Mathews playing Donkey Kong at Cobra Arcade Bar. The film rightly won "Best Film Based on a True Story," and we give it props for being an honest portrayal of how one dude really spent his weekend.

Dinerwood Level 4 Winners
Best Film: 
Wasted by Tyler Perry Studios 2
Garfield's Choice: Dirty Deeds by Schwifty Flicks
Best Use of Genre: Date Date Revolution by Prince Charley
Best Use of Prop: Sylvia by Beeing / Semicolon
Best Cinematography: Mr. Schreiner's Final Fantasy by The Yonder Peasants
Best Dialogue: Marooned by Thought Crime
Best Stunt Team: Chamber of Zoltar by Team Tactical
Best Statement: Dirty Deeds by Schwifty Flicks
Best PSA: Personal Space Invaders by VR Troopers
Best Tour of Downtown: Guitar Hero: Origins by Kenny Barrett
Best Film Based on a True Story: Don't Get Smashed by Dannon Mathews

Missed the screening? Luckily there's social media. Click on for a look at all of the Level 4 contenders, as well as selections from the past three years.
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Janessa is a native Phoenician. She joined New Times as a contributor in 2013. You can connect with her on social media at @janessahilliard, and she promises you'll find no pictures of cats on her Instagram — but plenty of cocktails.
Contact: Janessa Hilliard

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