On Friday, April 8 at 7 p.m., the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union will hold their 10th Annual Independent Film Festival at Louis’, though you can hardly call it that.
While their “Film Fest” is certainly an event that resembles a festival where films are shown, the USSU Film Fest has so many problems with it that it actually discourages serious independent filmmakers from participating. Here are some of the most obvious and detrimental issues plaguing the yearly event:
The only criterion is that the USSU asks you to submit a film between 30 seconds and five minutes in length that isn’t racist, sexist, etc. This is a blank slate for filmmakers allowing them to do practically anything they want to do.
There is nothing specified about production year — the film could have been made 10 years or two days ago — and most significantly, nothing specified about copyright infringement.
And yet, even the extremely limited, open-ended criteria aren’t respected. Many of the winning films of previous years have been well over five minutes. The festival couldn’t even follow the one rule they set in place.
The films with the most votes from the viewing public win — there are three winners. There is no panel of competent judges who assess the artistic and entertainment merit of the films and determine the winners. Instead, the winners are chosen by a group of drunken university students crowded into Louis’. While there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with letting the crowd choose the winner, it leads to dishonesty and horrible abuses of the system.
When the prizes you’re giving out are items worth hundreds of dollars — this year’s prizes include a $500 home theatre system and two camcorders priced at $300 and $200, respectively — you should make sure the best films are awarded those prizes. Instead, with crowd voting, whoever can bring the most people wins.
Make a movie for $10, pay 30 people $2 bucks each to vote for your film, win a $500 home theatre system.
$500 ”“ $70 = a $430 gain.
While there are half a dozen or so films each year at the festival that seem genuinely independent and artistic, they are never the films that win. Instead, the guy who gets high, who has his friend film him with a handheld camera while he’s riding his bicycle erratically and yelling at oncoming cars and who sets his movie to his favourite Talking Heads song wins a prize. One filmmaker spends days crafting his or her film while the other spends 10 minutes and infringes on copyright.
There’s a gulf in quality, and while such disparity is to be expected at independent film festivals, the filmmakers who pour their souls into their films should be awarded, not the people who film their inside jokes and call it entertainment.
If you want to win the top prize at the festival this year, here’s some advice for you: bribe 20 or so people you know to come with you and vote for your film. If the past years are any indication, the person with the largest entourage at Louis’ wins, so even if your film is literally footage of you eating a sandwich and nothing else, with your large group of supporters you’re pretty much guaranteed to win.
If there are any USSU members reading this article, please take these critiques to heart and re-evaluate the festival. They aren’t made out of malice or a personal vendetta against the festival, but out of a desire to encourage quality filmmaking on campus. Even if you disagree with all the above points, at least change the name of the festival and call it the “USSU’s Annual Movie Popularity Contest.” Be honest with the title.
The U of S should have a film festival, but the event that we currently call one is broken and in serious need of repair.
We have an amazing artistic community on campus and dozens of aspiring independent filmmakers with brilliant ideas just waiting for a venue to share their art. But when genuine artists are discouraged from participating because their labours of love that took countless hours to write, plan, shoot and edit lose to videos of guys dicking around on camera set to their favourite songs, there’s something seriously wrong.
I know it’s not the Toronto International Film Festival, but it’s not too much to ask the USSU Film Festival to have some standards of quality and professionalism.