September 30, 2004

Beyond the Lens: Film at Cornell

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Student filmmaking is an active and living activity at Cornell, but one that few students are familiar with. This fall, the four students of the Intermediate Level Filmmaking class, taught by Marilyn Rivchin, will engage in a semester-long original film project, overseeing every aspect of the filmmaking process in order to bring their vision to fruition. daze will follow their progress throughout the semester in regular installments. This week, in the first part of our series, we would like to introduce the players of this very real drama.

Pam Su ’05

Through her training as a photographer in high school and college, Pam is interested in “allowing the audience to step into an emotion, rather than just explaining it away.” She cites Italian neorealism (a movement that emphasized the drama of everyday life) as a key source of inspiration and vaunts In the Mood for Love as a perfect movie, noting that it “captures the small moments of life that show more about relationships and interactions. In that movie, the camera still pans, but it maintains something really static, and allows the spectator to gradually enter into the film.”

She intends her film to be a “personal narrative, the examination of a life lived by a man who would otherwise be anonymous, a drifter.” It will be partly animated, although she is currently undecided as to the form or content of this segment.

Pam is also ambivalent regarding the possibility of film school: “This is the year when I have to think about applying to film school and to the future. Part of me wants to go to Siberia, literally, and just take some train away from here. At the same time, I think I should go work in Taiwan or L.A., put myself out there, and get out of this sheltered environment.”

Furthermore, she is highly suspicious of the emotional and physical demands of filmmaking, even reluctant to engage in the act of creation itself: “I’m afraid that it’s impossible to get away from my characters. I go to the bathroom with my characters, which is why I think I can’t handle that pressure.” She adds that it’s particularly difficult to capture the beauty of each character, since she inevitably feels conflicted about their morals and personalities.

Amir Noorani ’06

In direct contrast to Pam’s aesthetic philosophy, Amir’s revolves around “the sociological aspects of film,” with all the investigations of ethics, politics, persecution, and cultural identity that entails. Growing up in Houston, TX, Amir was quite conscious of economic disparities and cultural clashes. “I’m a Muslim-American,” he says. “And I’m upset with the portrayal of Muslims in American entertainment. As a result, I’m more interested in social issues — whether progressive or not — and in storytelling; I want narrators that are changing society or being changed by it. Stories that get people stirred up.”

He, too, is constantly beset by the complexity and ambivalence of artistic creation: “I find that I go to sleep thinking about my story, and I wake up thinking about my story. I just have to constantly think about what mental image I want to replicate for the movie.”

One of his first films (produced when he was in high school) was Where You Live, an award-winning entry in the Dallas Video Festival that “juxtaposed wealth and poverty,” and from which he still receives royalty checks.

In his movie, Breaking the Habit, a reserved South Asian girl discovers she’s pregnant. Faced with revealing this fact to her boyfriend, she sets off on a solemn trip, only to meet a laid-back, quirky Eastern European man en route. Their ensuing conversations provide a new perspective for her claustrophobic world. Amir plans the film to run between 20 and 25 minutes, and will shoot in 16mm sync sound, principally at the Ithaca bus terminal and local coffee houses.

But, if Amir’s creative drive should collapse, Brad suggested an alternate narrative. “Breaking the Habit? It should be a nun porno.”

Brad Wilson ’06

Brad Wilson has been working behind the lens since the third grade. Ever since his parents brought home a camera, which he swiftly commandeered into his own use, filmmaking has been a regular exercise in his life.

“I like comedies. I work in that genre specifically.” His first film was screened at the Ivy Film Festival at Brown University, playing in front of a large audience.

His current project, presently bearing the title of Doomsday Impromptu, works under an irreverent premise — a man can’t stop killing people impromptu. As of now, Brad is far ahead of his of the other filmmakers. The cast was filled early in the year, consisting entirely of fellow Risley residents. “They’re all camera-hungry there, so it was pretty easy to find willing participants,” Brad explains. Wilson already has a history with Risley Theatre, helping to put on a musical entitled Godot: A Rock Opera. “Godot came at the end in his silver rocket ship of dreams,” Brad explained.

Proudly lugging around “the Millennium Falcon of Krasnogorsk-3 cameras,” Brad happily points out that it’s a hand-cranked Soviet camera from the late ’60s. He has already begun filming, shooting on color 16mm, and working in locations around Louie’s Lunch and Beebe Lake. On the Louie’s Lunch shoot, Brad proved to be a resourceful genius, compensating for an inability to procure alcohol by duct taping Diet Coke cans. During this break, one actor explained the movie to curious passers-by: “It’s about beatings and getting drunk on fake beer and dying a lot. I’m about to get hit by a bus pretty soon.”

Pietre Valbuena ’05

Pietre’s inclusion in this group is a bit surprising, considering that he says his last film completely and perniciously drained him of energy. While he’s still “nervous or hesitant” about his new movie, Errare, he also acknowledges that “film as a medium really has power — to move, to affect. I don’t think I could tap into something of such depth, but when I become so personally invested in something, I think I can make something of meaning.” While Pietre is influenced by a wide range of genres and films (including Night & Fog, Black Hole, and Wavelength), he intends his latest movie to have the same playful, deeply emotional sensibility as Amelie, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and the films of Wong Kar-Wai. Like Pam, Pietre is drawn to a cinema that eschews mawkishness or gloss. He is specifically enraptured with the Dogme95 movement [a reliance on natural light, improvisation, and location shooting], indicating that it “keeps out unsavory or artificial elements of the characters and plot.”

Errare is the Latin word for “to error” or “to wander,” and the movie details the life of a perpetual child from the vantage of both the actual child and the adult child. As a result, Pietre awaits a difficult casting procedure in which he must first of all find two actors with similar physical features, and then make sure he has an engaging child actor with a disarming blend of mature and immature character traits.

Archived article by Zach Jones and Alex Linhardt
Red Letter Daze Editors