Deputy Arts Editor Avery Baumel reviews six short films presented last Saturday.

This Saturday, as part of the Athena Film Festival, six student filmmakers presented their short films. Three were participants in the Sloate Media Center’s Emerging Filmmaker Mentorship Program, and they stayed after the showcase for a talkback with the center’s staff. This was one of the most interesting parts of the event, and it was compelling to hear from the filmmakers about the process.

The Emerging Filmmaker Mentorship, as Selina Wu (BC ‘24) explained, allowed the filmmakers to be much more creative and experimental than might otherwise have been possible. The Sloate Media Center’s grants and resources covered logistics, allowing the filmmakers to focus on their artistic ideas. Ellie George (BC ‘23) and Amy Zhang (BC ‘23) also emphasized the importance of the program in building a community with the other filmmakers, since all the filmmakers worked on the sets of the other films.

The filmmakers also spoke about the surprising parts of the experience. From having to figure out food for long shoots to dealing with the noise of cicadas in outdoor shots, filming came with unexpected challenges. Still, it was clear both from the conversation and from the films themselves that the projects came to wonderful fruition.

Wu’s “Reginald” centers around an older man named Arthur, who’s fairly certain that he’s 60. A narrator tells us that Arthur mostly just works, eats, and sleeps, and that he loves talking to a field of crosses stuck in the ground, especially one that has a name: Reginald. Wu superimposes shots, like a fancier version of FaceTime, that enable us to see Arthur opening his suitcase and an aerial view of the briefcase at the same time. It’s intimate and clever. As Arthur wonders whether adding hot sauce to his regular meal of rice and marshmallows might be interesting, hot sauce bottles float across the screen, multiplying, growing, fading in and out. After he finally decides to do so, he responds to the narrator’s voice for the first time; it’s revealed that this is Reginald, but Reginald is Arthur, and Arthur is Reginald. If absurd, it’s also delightful and visually lovely, and a wonderful start to the showcase.

“Bake Sale” by Molly Bynum (CC ‘24) is a touching and intensely real vignette into the lives of two sisters (one of whom is played by the filmmaker’s real-life sister). Bynum lets her subjects be fully messy and cruel and whimsical, exploring the full lengths of their relationship in a way that feels authentic and loving. The sisters fight over a sweater that the younger sister stole while the younger sister pokes at the fact that the older sister, Kylie, sits on her phone all day, before she asks Kylie to help her with a bake sale the next day. When Kylie bakes cupcakes, imperfectly, before the younger gets home, the younger sister is disappointed they didn’t bake them together; a joint frosting endeavor collapses into a food-fight before reaching a poetic, full-circle ending: “That sweater looks good on you,” admits Kylie. Sweetness and cruelty in perfect harmony—the true sibling relationship. It’s not the most visually experimental film of the night, but it lets its actors explore the full extent of their emotions, and it feels true.

Linnea Hopkins-Ekdahl’s (CC ‘24) “Journeys End With Lovers Meeting” is a conversation with the rom-com genre, so as a lifelong rom-com lover, this film was easily my favorite of the showcase. Ashley Pelham (CC ‘25), the film’s protagonist, was stunning as a woman on a maybe-date interrupted by a one-time acquaintance; he’s trying to convince her to give him her number, since she seems to have ‘lost’ his. Hopkins-Ekdahl plays with the inner dialogues of her characters, letting their thoughts guide our attention. The acquaintance leaves, but both Pelham’s character and her date, played by John Howley (CC ‘25), still can’t tell if this is a date or not. Pelham tells us the rules of a first date, all of which are broken immediately after she announces them. When their date is interrupted by a couple’s elaborately dramatized PDA, they embark on a dream sequence, complete with Howley telling Pelham that she’s “not like other girls.” After the sequence breaks, the two finally talk to each other, deciding that they are on a date. It’s clever, funny, and deeply enjoyable.

George’s “Ink, Running” takes us inside an apartment inhabited by a mother and daughter, while construction periodically makes it impossible to talk or hear. Dialogue, and its absence, is central here, as well as George’s fluid and engaging writing. After the death of the father, the two women have to reconsider their lives, and through conversation, fault lines quickly emerge. The mother wants to retire, and the daughter needs to find a job. When the daughter finds a painting fallen behind the couch with a “Love, Dad” note on the back, she threatens to Sharpie over it to try to convince her mother not to retire; it comes to life, as animated ink spirals flow through the room. This effect was mesmerizing, and I wished it had more screen time; it would have been interesting to see how it could function interspersed more with the plot. 

Noelle Nafus’s (BC ‘24) “Mira Walks Home” began with two women at a bar receiving drinks they didn’t order: a man did. He comes up to them, and one of the women, Mira, gives him a different name and chats with him. Her friend refuses the drink and the conversation, looking nervous; when he leaves and Mira asks her friend why she feels this way, she says she’s getting a bad vibe. So is the audience. The friend goes home. Mira stays, complaining that the friend is always unnecessarily paranoid about men. When the man starts talking to Mira, things escalate and she tries to leave, but he stops her and things evolve into a forced, unwanted kiss, and he calls her Mira. The cinematography, too, escalates, as the lighting, music, and camerawork sharpen and intensify. Mira runs home, in chaotic, blurry shots, juxtaposed with red, alarming shots of the man’s face, and his voice saying “Mira.” Mira hides behind a wall, keys in hand, shaking; when someone rounds the corner, she attacks, but it’s the friend from earlier, face now scratched by Mira’s keys. The film ends in shaky breaths. If it follows a storyline and conversation we know all too well, it does so skillfully, although I’m not sure it added anything new.

The final film, Zhang’s “Red,” was probably the most visually interesting and beautiful of the six. Its color work was stunning, and its attention to detail in its set and in its camerawork—one memorable shot showed its protagonist, Mei, through a mirror hanging on an apartment wall—was lovely. The film follows Mei through hearing a voicemail from her mother asking her to come home to Mei’s return to her parents’ apartment. There, she helps her mom cook, but it’s not a perfect homecoming: within a few seconds of returning, Mei’s mother tells her she looks fat. When her father comes home, he scolds Mei’s mother for not finishing dinner in time, the first of a long line of arguments. Mei tries to intervene, to no avail; eventually, she gets up and leaves, and when her mother calls to ask her to come back for Chinese New Year, Mei declines. Its emotions were heartfelt, and it felt immersive.

The filmmakers’ collective interest in experimenting with different styles of storytelling and cinematography made for a wonderful showcase. It wasn’t always clear that the films had a purpose, though, and their experimental nature sometimes lacked intention. Still, this was incredibly enjoyable and interesting, and it’s clear that all six filmmakers have exceptional talent. Hopefully, their work will make it into future iterations of the Athena Film Festival. 

Image via Athena Film Festival