Founded in 2015, the Yale Student Film Festival was held last weekend, April 12–14, at the Whitney Humanities Center, the Center for Collaborative Arts and Media and the Law School. The festival was broken into three film sections: experimental shorts, narrative shorts and documentary shorts. Furthermore, the festival saw New York Times writer Wesley Morris hold a talk and Q&A on Thursday, and the festival screened the movies “Broadcast” and “Rikers: An American Jail.” Among the three sections of films, six stood out. Here they are.
The festival began with experimental shorts: 11 films, lasting approximately an hour and 20 minutes.
“I guess I have a lot of questions for time.” Falling under both the documentary and experimental categories, “Kcloc” is an animated sequence of interviews asking all the participants the seemingly easy but apparently difficult question: “What does time mean to you?” Collecting answers from people of different ages, backgrounds and regions, the responses range from light-hearted lamentations about how time simply marches on to complex scientific explanations of dimensions to astrological conceptions of suns and stars.
The film’s most interesting visual characteristic was the depictions of the participants: each interviewee’s head was replaced with a clock. The type of clock depended on the answer the participant gave. For example, the woman who said that time makes her think of the sun was represented by a sundial.
One of the more light-hearted films in the entire festival, “Kcloc,” directed by Ninaad Kulkarni, found a perfect balance between carefree and profound.
The Glass Horizon
One of the more dramatic, professional and provoking films, “The Glass Horizon” is an experimental film highlighting the real-life horrors of present-day European slaughterhouse workers in Germany. Directed by Denis Pavlovic, the film employs a mixture of stimulating auditory and visual imagery to highlight the inhumane fate of many Eastern Europeans working in German slaughterhouses.
The movie follows a worker who has just been fired from a slaughterhouse and has moved into the surrounding forest. He calls his wife frequently, lying about his fictitious prosperity and promotions. Distraught that he cannot send money to his family, he begins to grow delusional, haunted by gory scenes in the slaughterhouse and a phantom of himself — successful, employed, wearing a suit and brandishing a briefcase. Pavlovic concludes the film with harrowing statistics, including the cruel wages these foreign workers receive and their tendency to move into the forests when fired.
“The Glass Horizon” particularly excels in the film’s use of auditory imagery. The underlying music is intense and anxiety-inducing, and Pavlovic adds moments of complete silence with perfect precision. Furthermore, the plight of the protagonist incites an emotional reaction from the audience. The actor’s screams directed at God and his regret at lying to his wife only highlight his desperation. Exploring the inhumane condition of a specific subset of the working class, “The Glass Horizon” is a terrifying film that you cannot stop watching.
Fifteen films constituted the narrative segment of the festival. This section, which also took place on Friday, featured the most films, some of which explored rape, the parent-child dynamic, isolated love and other themes. Two films stood out: “Old Salt Prigent,” and “LIBERATION.”
Old Salt Prigent
Set in a coastal French town, “Old Salt Prigent” explores the relationship between Samuel, an impressionable, young former member of the French Marines and his father, Charles, the patriarchal sailor of the town. Envious of his son’s successes, Charles criticizes Samuel’s conception of sailing, his love interest and his general lifestyle. The story climaxes when Samuel confronts Charles about his mother, who disappeared when Samuel was a baby. Analyzing the dynamic between father and son and masculine duty, “Old Salt Prigent” is a fascinating narrative that can be appreciated as a balance between masculine and romantic feminine ideals.
Directed by Georges Hauchard-Heutte, the film is an ode to romantic, French, small-town life. Reminiscent of a Hemingway-like hyper-masculine protagonist, Charles lives with the everyday mission to lead his town and tame the sea. Yet the film emphasizes the sea’s natural strength and power. For Samuel’s mother, the sea provided both escape and demise.
Exploring the role of both the classic stoic male and the modern, romantic and emotional youthful man, “Old Salt Prigent” was a narrative film top pick.
In a word: gut-wrenching. Directed by Veronica Andersson, “LIBERATION” follows the story of a Polish mother and daughter, who both struggle with the daughter’s recent trauma from being raped. Haunted both emotionally and physically, the daughter has been impregnated by her attacker and struggles to get an abortion in the more socially-conservative Polish countryside. Saddled with poor finances, the two are rejected by every hospital and cannot even afford to return home via train. Following the daughter’s struggles with her post-traumatic stress and her mother’s inability to mend the situation, “LIBERATION” is a profound, emotionally provocative film.
The film’s strongest trait is its use of flashback. The daughter constantly relives her rape in brief flashes, all of which throw her into utter disarray. Furthermore, the lack of humanity — a common thread throughout many of the films — is frustrating, disgusting and unfathomable. As the mother screams and begs commuters for just a few dollars to stay on the train, I could not help but think of what I would have done in the same situation. Was their lack of mercy unfathomable? I do not know. I hope so.
The festival concluded with Saturday’s midday showing of documentary films. Spanning about an hour and a half, the films touched on a flurry of issues, including displacement, religion and immigration. Two films stood out: “Seeking Sanctuary,” and “Havenofear.”
Directed by TJ Noel-Sullivan ’20, “Seeking Sanctuary” follows the 105 days in late 2017 which Marco Reyes, an immigrant facing deportation, was forced to claim sanctuary in the First Methodist Church on Elm Street. The narrative is mostly comprised of interviews with Reyes and First Methodist Pastor Juhye Hahn, as well as video footage that follows Reyes’s day-to-day experiences. The film culminates with Reyes receiving a call from his attorney: He has been granted a temporary stay in the United States while his case is under review. Exploring the themes of national and ethnic identity as well as humanity in the immigration process, “Seeking Sanctuary” conveys the personal horrors U.S. residents face when confronted with the specter of deportation.
Noel-Sullivan, of course, also added clips of President Donald Trump, including the infamous speech in which he called Mexicans criminals and rapists. Reyes appears to concede the point that convicted immigrants should face deportation. However, in one of the opening interviews, Reyes quickly adds that “not all of us [immigrants] are criminals in this country.”
The film is emotionally driven, emphasizing the wedge that deportation would drive between Reyes and his wife and daughters. However, in presenting this emotionally-provoking narrative, “Seeking Sanctuary” argues that the immigration process needs more humanity.
Slovakia. Near the southern border of Hungary. The small village of Nebojsa. In the face of potential Syrian refugee migration, the village’s religious Christian fanatics communicate their hostilities by means of their savior’s face — literally. The short documentary “Havenofear” follows both individual villagers and their priest, who carves masks of Jesus Christ out of cardboard. These villagers don the masks with a mix of pride and apprehension as they stroll through the town all day. This, the priest believes, shows their ardent opposition to radical Islam.
Directed by Jakub Gajdos, the film observes the extent to which Islamophobes are willing to antagonize those from the Middle East. Bohdan Netusil, the village’s priest, assumes that all Syrian refugees are “Muslims, pagans and fanatics” and also generalizes further by categorizing Muslims and pagans as fanatics. Believing that God has inspired him to make these masks, Netusil erects a religious barrier between Christians and almost any other sect of religiosity.
The film focuses almost exclusively on interviews with local residents. The lack of background music emphasizes the isolation of the village. The area is undeveloped, isolated and ostensibly forgotten, the film seems to say, and so are the views of its inhabitants.
This highlights yet another facet of some modern forms of religiously-fueled prejudice: seclusion. Forced to fight for the continuity which has shaped their lives, the villagers turn to hatred and enmity.
Exposing the audience to grass-roots, small-town religious prejudice, “Havenofear” was among the best picks at this year’s film festival.
Nick Tabio | firstname.lastname@example.org