Thursday, May 17, 2007

5x8 Film Festival-part 1

I am going to try a little experiment. I wrote an article for the Chicago Reader a few years ago about a 24-hour film contest. It was a 3200 word story, I am going to serialize it here over the next few days. If no one cares then I will stop.


It is 8 p.m. Friday night at Atomix, a coffee shop at Chicago and Damen, and more than 100 filmmakers are packed into the restaurant waiting for the phone to ring. It doesn’t. Sean U’Ren and Atom Paul, the founders of the 5 x 8 Video Festival, look nervous. Someone shouts, “It’s 8:12 and since the call hasn’t come, can we turn in the films at 5:12?” The room laughs. U’Ren puffs out his cheeks and sighs. He bites his lip and stares at the answering machine that is serving as a speakerphone and announces, “This is not an exact science.” At 8:15 the phone rings and the room goes quiet. The phone rings and rings. Ten times. Fifteen times. The answering machine does not pick up. Finally, U’Ren picks up the phone and hands it to Paul, whose mother is on the other end. A Bob Newhart routine ensues.
“No, Mom, just tell me right now… yes, really.” Paul puts a finger to his right ear, a puzzled look crosses his face. There is a long pause. Paul finally addresses the crowd. “You’re not going to like it. The topic is What Happened to Group 18?”
The sixth, 5 x 8 Video Festival begins with an anti-climax.
The first 5 x 8 festival unspooled in March of last year. U’Ren and Paul, friends from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, frustrated by not being able to make the films they wanted decided to do something about it. Recalling a 12-hour film contest they participated in while in college, they decided to update it for the digital age and involve their friends. U’Ren, an assistant editor at Cutters, and Paul, who owns Atomix, believed they knew enough people with video cameras and access to editing systems to hold a contest. The 5 x 8 Video Festival was born.
The competition is equal parts The Iron Chef and Project Greenlight. The basic rules are simple. At 8 p.m. groups meet at Atomix. A topic is announced and they have until 5 p.m. the following day to deliver a finished film of about three minutes in length. At 8 p.m. that evening the films are screened and prizes are awarded. For this, the sixth competition, the top prize is Avid DV Express software, worth about $1700. Second place wins 80 dollars and third place gets 50, but no one enters for the prizes.
Chicagoans who complain there isn’t a film community here haven’t seen the 5 x 8 Video Festival. Camaraderie, collaboration and the joy of the creative process flow throughout Atomix. As the teams go their separate ways they wish each other good luck, and genuinely seem to mean it. Each group looks forward to seeing what the other collectives come up with. It does not seem to be competitive.
This time U’Ren and Paul wanted to participate in the festival, so Paul’s mother, “Miss K.” was given the job of selecting a theme. Participants submitted suggestions via e-mail. After rejecting ideas such as “a chase ending in a confrontation,” “your first drug experience, and “summer romance,” Miss K. picked, “What happened to Group 18?” Most of this crowd is unaware the Group 18 in question showed up on the Friday night of the fifth festival paid the $15 dollar entry fee, got the topic and vanished- never to be heard from again. The participants aren’t exactly overjoyed with this theme, but they head into the night seemingly in good spirits.
Handicapping this event is like trying to pick the winner of the Calgary Stampede. There are too many choices, and the groups all take different approaches. About one-third of the teams have some affiliation with downtown commercial editing houses such as Cutters, Superior Street, and The Whitehouse. Other teams are comprised of film buffs, architects and Atomix regulars who have seen the festival and choose to enter for the wonder of it.

Part 2 tomorrow.

1 comment:

mrliteral said...

Who would not care to hear the rest of the story? It has everything...conflict, mystery, a ticking know how it works. Go on...