Each year the many top notch films schools that populate the Los Angeles area book the Directors Guild of America Theatre on Sunset to showcase their students’ thesis films to the industry at large. Now, thanks to “Fine Cut: KCET’s Festival of Student Film,” there’s no need to drive to the DGA in order to check out the work of the latest diploma-clutching filmmakers. Every Thursday at 9:00 p.m. during the month of October, Southern California’s esteemed PBS station is broadcasting an hour-long block of handpicked student films and then streaming them for the worldwide audience on its website.
Celebrating its tenth annual incarnation, “Fine Cut 2006” debuts seventeen films ranging from one to thirty minutes in length. The film schools made the initial recommendations (of over 200 films), with KCET responsible for the final selection. “KCET proudly continues its commitment to showcasing the region’s best student films,” proclaims the series executive producer, Bohdan Zachary, who predicts the October 2006 screenings will “have the largest audience ever.”
Of the participating film schools, CalArts dominates with five films total, while UCLA contributes four, USC three, AFI and LMU two each, and one from Otis College of Art and Design. There’s no theme connecting the films, other than a vague sense of earnestness, which is so often typical of both student filmmaking and public broadcasting.
The opening film by UCLA’s John Morgan is an 18-minute black-and-white urban adventure entitled “End of a Dog.” Boasting the biggest name actor in the entire series, this pre-thesis film stars Jon Cryer as a mild mannered man who reluctantly enlists the aid of a crazy street person as he attempts to find an appropriate burial spot for his hated but now deceased pet canine.
The other standout narrative film in the series is coincidentally also black-and-white and eighteen-minutes long – “How Henri Came to Stay” by USC student Elia Petridis. Airing in the second episode, this post-World War II-era murder mystery displays a real sense of confidence, as if the filmmaker had spent a lifetime watching Turner Classic Movies and decided to make his own contribution to the genre.
Those familiar with the American Film Institute output will be pleased to see two very well-executed shorts featuring child protagonists imaginatively dealing with traumatic events: Graham Tallman‘s “Codename: Simon” (Episode 3, airing October 19) and Jeff Stephenson‘s “Chasing Daylight” (Episode 4, October 26).
Fans of animation will want to catch the various CalArts shorts sprinkled throughout the series. The most accessible is in the October 19th installment, Josh Look‘s one-minute-long flower pollination comedy, “Asexuality.” Not surprisingly, the filmmaker reports his work has been readily embraced by Hollywood: “After graduating from CalArts last year, I went on to help develop a CG pilot for Nickelodeon called ‘Tak and the Power of Juju,’ which has since been picked up and will air sometime in 2007.”
Historically, it’s the documentaries that really shine in “Fine Cut.” Two docs from the 2004 season were picked up by PBS’s “Independent Lens” series for national airing. This year’s batch is no exception. In Episode 2, LMU student Adam Pilkington offers up “Lion,” a 15-minute portrait of an orphaned African student doing his best to survive in the AIDS-ravaged area. In the following episode, another LMU film, Joe Hill White‘s “Prayers from Kawthoolei,” documents an emigre returning to his homeland along the Thai-Burma border where he reunites with his best friend who has remained behind as a guerrilla fighter.
“Anuttara” by Manasi Ashish of the Otis College of Art and Design is the last documentary in the series and the most personal; it’s an autobiographical portrait culminating in the filmmaker’s traditional Indian wedding ceremony. Ashish, who says her personal credo is “Do not waste yourself in rejection, nor bark against the bad, but chant the beauty of the Good,” charms with a film that clocks in at less than seven minutes and leaves the viewer wanting more.
“Supporting ‘Fine Cut’ has been an opportunity to try to help filmmakers who are making the kind of films that I believe in,” proclaims Jack Larson, co-founder of the Bridges/Larson Foundation, which underwrites the series. Kudos to Larson and KCET, which has the largest broadcast reach of any public television station in the United States, for believing the work of student filmmakers deserves to be aired during primetime. Congratulations to all the “Fine Cut” directors, who have indeed graduated into the big time.
And for those die-hards willing to haul out to Hollywood to watch the films on the silver screen, KCET is presenting a special “Best of Show” screening on Wednesday, November 1, 2006, from 7:00 – 10:00 p.m. at the Vista Theater on Sunset. Tickets are still available.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Kim Adelman is the author of “The Ultimate Filmmaker’s Guide to Short Films.”