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Student short films show more with less at festival

November 2, 2018
By GRIFFIN KELLY - Staff Writer ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - As the two lovers leaned in for a kiss, the woman pushed the man away, complaining about his atrocious breath. He needed to fix it. He needed to hunt down a unicorn and get the secret to fresh breath. That's the plot to the student film "Unicorn Breath" - simple yet insane.

A group of SUNY Plattsburgh students screened their short films at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts Saturday night, Oct. 27, during the Lake Placid Film Festival.

SUNY Plattsburgh English and film professor Michael Devine moderated the screenings.

Article Photos

SUNY Plattsburgh English and film professor Michael Devine moderates screening of North Country short films at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts Saturday night, Oct. 27, during the Lake Placid Film Festival.
(News photo — Griffin Kelly)

After the student projects, Devine screened his personal movie "The Michigan," a 20-minute exploration of Michigans, which are basically the North Country version of a Coney Island hot dog. What started as a film about a hot dog wound up addressing the fall of middle-America farms.

"Unicorn Breath" won a campus-wide contest that 18 teams submitted to. The prompt was to film everything on a phone, show someone cooking, feature a toothbrush and have a character say "sometimes, things don't go as planned."

The film festival introduced a theme this year, diversity, and Devine said the short films align with that mold.

"It's a great theme, and the student films come from all over," he said. "The come from Mumbai. They come from Uzbekistan. They come from Long Island. They come from Keene. The students work together making them, so it really was a global-local collaboration going on."

One of the advantages to short film, Devine said, is that it doesn't need a structured plot and characters to evoke something in audiences. Plenty of student films were like that. One was just shots of downtown Plattsburgh - no words, no action, just capturing the moment. Another consisted only of birds taking off from buildings.

"I always think of short film from its earliest form with Muybridge in 1895 and Edison," Devine said. "It's about chance, contingency and accidents. It resists narrative. It loves to just explore motion. That's a nice thing to realize that film has its own power that is outside a narrative. It was a real comedown when film started to adapt plays and novels in 1907, 1908, 1909. The first 10 years of cinema were arguably the best. Maybe we're back at that with GIFs and online YouTube cat videos."

One thing that stuck out among the student films was that they were coincidentally all shot at the same locations. Nearly every film featured the Eagle monument, the art murals downtown, the alleyway next to the restaurant Irises and MacDonough Park.

"Well Plattsburgh, in a lot of ways, is like a movie set," Devine said. "It's like the small town in "Back to the Future" with the clock tower. I think filmmakers are attracted to the 19th-century cinematic landscape that Plattsburgh offers, and they like to discover that and tell stories. My own film 'Burgh' actually uses that alleyway as well because alleyways obviously are portals into different dimensions."

Ben Stiller and Showtime will soon release the short series "Escape at Dannemora," which was filmed on location, chronicle the prison break of Richard Matt and David Sweat. Devine said the North Country has the potential for more features and TV shows.

"I think the North Country offers a severe landscape that can attract the camera," he said, "but it also offers, like in 'The Michigan' narrative, almost classic American tales of borderlands. The story of borderlands are the stories of flocks and change and people who are holding on. They're the stories that mean something. It's not stories of Panera Bread. It's the stories of real bread and the real ties that bind people."



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