It’s not every day that you’re addressed by the man who wrote your childhood. On Thursday, April 4, Stu Krieger (writer of “The Land Before Time,” chair of the theatre department and capable of absolutely rocking a pink oxford) introduced “Names” to a packed crowd in the screening room of INTS. “We hope for this film to be the first of many [at UCR],” he said. I hope so, too, because “Names” and the student films that preceded it were totally unexpected.
The evening began with a series of films created by students, faculty and alumni. The playbill varies each night, but Thursday night opened with “Cherry & Highland,” a modern noir with a great hook: after Bill receives a premonition of his sister’s murder, he must grapple with a brick of cocaine and a loaded gun to save her life. Although the short film suffered from fuzzy close-ups and occasionally heavy-handed noir tropes (the femme fatale, the anti-hero), I appreciated its handling of modern settings with classical themes. And who can forget that lingering saxophone soundtrack?
Other standout films included the lovingly quirky “Spaz Romance,” which packed one of the most comical punches of the evening into the shortest amount of time, and Jared Nelson’s “Paint Me An Expression,” which had such strikingly beautiful cinematography that I wanted to take pictures of the screen. One of its scenes framed the protagonists as they faced each other, hidden from each other’s views by their canvases, illuminated from above by a light bulb chandelier. It was beautiful. Kudos to Nelson’s cinematographer.
“Waiting For The Son,” albeit visually interesting, did not feel like a standalone piece and fell flat on a thematic level. A college bro drives through the desert, gets lost and has a vision of a Jesus figure instructing him how to find his way home––and there’s the message of the film, which dances between being religiously dogmatic and too subtle to stick.
“Prayer Wish” made up for any lingering confusion by presenting an immersive story of racism and misunderstanding. Directed by theatre professor Root Park, the film followed the trials and tribulations of a Korean family after their $100 bill is stolen. As a matter of principle, the husband tries to defend his family’s dignity. The conflict was powerful and well-executed, and presented the strongest acting of the evening.
The title event, “Names,” was written by MFA grad student David Campos and directed by Park. The film featured scenes set around campus, including Rivera library and the second floor of INTS, which was both exciting and surprising––I didn’t think that a floor of INTS could ever be convincingly disguised as a hospital, but it totally worked.
“Names” is about David, who is trying to get over his divorce. Over the film’s 20 minute runtime, we learn that David’s wife cheated on him after the dissolution of their marriage over two years. I enjoyed the film up until the final, closing scene, which featured moody blue lights and a sexy saxophone (it seems the sax from “Cherry & Highland” is in high demand). As the camera panned over the suddenly atmospheric bookshelves of Rivera, the narrator’s closing lines felt hypocritical; the film’s final moment invalidated the twenty minutes it had spent developing the broken relationship between David and his wife. The scene looked beautiful, but I’m not if it was worth the trouble.
Despite my complaints, the film’s overall presentation, plus the event’s ever-changing lineup of student, faculty and alumni projects, makes “Names” a worthwhile experience. Its final screening is Saturday, April 6, and will play at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. with three different films beforehand.
Rating: 3.5 stars overall