A few weeks ago I watched, for the first time, Dziga Vertov’s “Man With a Movie Camera.” An hour long experiment with the cinema, this 1929 film played with what it meant to make movies through editing and non-linear storytelling, with the disclaimer in the front that this movie would not tell a story and was meant to prove that cinema is its own medium, separate from other types of storytelling such as novels. In this it succeeds, taking the camera on the street, filming the cameraman, editing in new ways and juxtaposing shots to get a reaction solely based on what is seen.
On the 10th through the 12th of May, the students of Knox College participated in a different kind of cinematic experience: creating a film from scratch in only 48 hours. From 4 p.m. on Friday, when the rules were sent out to those who signed up, to 4 p.m. on Sunday when the final cut was due, students wrote, directed, shot, edited and scored films of no more than five minutes. Since the process, the films have been distributed to faculty judges who have looked them over and will award prizes in three categories. The films will all be shown at a screening on May 24 in the Taylor Lounge at 8 p.m., where attendees will be able to vote for a fan favorite.
I took on the challenge by myself, mostly because I didn’t have time, after deciding to do it, to get a crew together. However, no film is ever made completely alone and I had a lot of help and support along the way. Having a list in my head of films I wanted to make in general, after getting the rules I decided to play off an idea that I had been developing having to do with interactions with the constant sound of a train on campus.
I used different actors for each of seven scenes, so my Saturday was spent lugging around camera equipment with cell phone in hand and meeting people at different spots all around campus. I had a wish list of places that I have wanted to film at Knox since I got here, and the only one I didn’t get to was the Round Room in CFA which was locked when I showed up. A downside to making a film in 48 hours is definitely the fact that you cannot book space in advance.
I was somehow able to put a rough cut together before going to bed on Saturday night, mostly by cutting a scene entirely and having to use footage that I wasn’t all that happy with.
Because of this, I was able to finish on time and even deal with the exporting difficulties that I was having. (If you’ve ever made any kind of video using a computer, you have probably had these issues.) The 48 hours forced me to focus on time management skills as well as filmmaking, and even if the final product wasn’t perfect, it was a finished film that I had created in two days.
The experience was exhausting, too, and I don’t know if I’ll want to do something like this again. Leaning more towards that thought that everything in a film should be deliberate to make a true artistic expression (though improvisation can also be deliberate; it gets complicated), having to make something so fast didn’t leave as much time to fine tune the details. I was left with a kind of test of a film that I could make, and definitely want to go back to explore what I was working with having more time than 48 hours.
I started this by talking about Vertov because the cinema is and always should be about experimenting. Experimenting with how to shoot, how to edit, how to add sound, experimenting with how an audience reacts to your experiments and most importantly, experimenting with the way stories are told. Though Vertov claimed in the beginning of his film that he wasn’t telling a story, a story is still told. It becomes the story of a day, of people and a story of cinema. Experimental cinema is not something to be afraid of, and neither is the idea of experimenting with cinema.