Straight 8 – a (crazy, gorgeous) film contest

I had the pleasure this week of attending a screening of short films all shot in super-8mm. Not the first time I’ve gone to one of these. The catch this time was that these were all films that were produced and submitted as entries to Straight 8, a really incredible-sounding film contest.

From their website:

you shoot a film on a single cartridge of super 8mm film that we send to you. you can only edit in-camera. then you hand back your un-developed film to us for processing. together with an original soundtrack

the film we send you is the actual one you shoot and we show. if it’s good enough… the first time you see your film is with a packed cinema audience

We were informed at the beginning of the screening that the last time straight 8 films were screened in Vancouver was in 2004. Hopefully I won’t have to wait as long to see another batch! The ones shown in Vancouver were a combination of films that screened at Cannes, and entries submitted from contestants in North America.

Anyway, I had a blast watching them at the Pacific Cinematheque, which was filled at about 25% capacity. Some of them were quite poignant; many were witty as far as filmmaking techniques go. One, for instance, was a continuous shot following people walking on a sidewalk (around a roundabout, I’m assuming). There was another one, a combination of stop motion and animation, spawned from someone wondering about the history of an object in the environment. He spots a cigarette butt and the visual representation of his thinking grows magnificently.

I was just really blown away by how much the sound and the imagery can work together to be meaningful, but it’s not any means absolutely necessary. Some filmmakers went to what I imagine were fairly extravagant lengths to sync audio and video – one film had music that actually went through “distortion” when the action started taking place under water. The sync on that didn’t work out so well, but it was still a marvelous attempt. Others eschewed it entirely, letting ambient noise be the soundscape, or looping sounds and filling the entire time with them. Others still, likely those who were shooting the entire reel on a single take, took the sound as it came. And of course, I was entranced by the use of all the incredible in-camera features: stop motion, time-lapses with intervolometers, slow motion, the fades…

I’m nowhere near experienced enough with either my camera (which I’ve still never used before!) or filming things on actual film in general to be able to put the forethought into filming something for this year’s competition, which opens sometime next month. But perhaps I’ll put myself on the list and dream anyway…

And the other really coolest thing? Some of the films are online. I highly recommend Sticks and Balls for a good laugh (though it’s not for the squeamishly ill-humoured), and The Surrealist Brothel for some really lush (and, as the title suggests, surreal) imagery. Finally, the Bike Film from the gent that runs the contest out of London is interesting just for its use of time-lapse stuff – great sync with the music.

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