ARTS: Collegians lose sleep, gain filmmaking experience

Burlington College film students pose with Vermont International Film Festival Executive Director Orly Yadin after winning Best Film at the second annual Sleepless in Burlington 24-hour filmmaking competition. (Observer photo by Luke Baynes)

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Twenty haggard and bleary-eyed collegiate filmmakers gathered Sunday at Main Street Landing on the Burlington waterfront for the screening of movies conceived and shot in a 24-hour burst of creative collaboration.

The second annual Sleepless in Burlington filmmaking competition, the closing event of the 10-day Vermont International Film Festival, gave five-person teams from four colleges (Burlington College, Middlebury College, Saint Michael’s College and the University of Vermont) 24 hours to write, shoot and edit short films using local actors summoned to a group casting call.

Event organizer Barry Snyder, an adjunct professor at Champlain College and Community College of Vermont, prefaced the showing of the completed student films by explaining the instructional value of the exercise.

“It’s a real life learning situation, rather than a classroom situation,” Snyder said. “I think that all the lessons that the students take away from completing a complete film in this pressure cooker situation apply to the professional world of filmmaking that they’re entering.”

Besides the time constraint, the filmmakers were bound by a series of restrictive parameters. Specifically, the completed films had to include a shot involving a Maglianero Café button and a scene filmed in front of the “Everyone Loves a Parade!” mural on the newly dedicated Leahy Way in Burlington. The films also had to open with an introductory quote from a Phish song and include the dialogue line, “A storm is coming”—a tongue-in-cheek reference to the impending arrival of Hurricane Sandy.

The audience and the three-member judges’ panel disagreed on the competition’s best film.

The Audience Choice Award went to the UVM team’s “Mixed Bag,” the comic tale of a woman whose curiosity about the contents of a delivery boy’s satchel transports her on a series of surreal misadventures, like Alice down the rabbit hole.

The judges picked Burlington College’s “Watcher,” which explores the mass media’s desensitizing effect on the human psyche, through a TV-obsessed character who is unable to comprehend a hit-and-run car accident when he ventures into the real world.

Burlington College student filmmaker David Littlefield gave credit to Johannes Ziegler, who won the competition’s best actor award for his dialogue-free performance as the watcher.

“We got a lot of help from our actor, Johannes,” Littlefield said. “He really got the character right off and brought it to life.”

The Burlington College team received a victory plaque for its sleep-deprived efforts, along with a makeshift trophy made from a discarded pressure gauge and other scavenged junkyard materials.

In his acceptance speech, Will Hoffinger paid tribute to his collaborators and to the competition’s collaborative process.

“I’m a sophomore this year, and last year when I was a freshman these were my first group of friends,” Hoffinger said. “We’re all really best friends and we’ve been looking forward to this for a long time and we’re just really happy to be able to work together.”