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OPINION | FILM SCENE: Inception to Projection treats the cinema bug

by AL TOPICH Special to the Democrat -Gazette | January 20, 2023 at 1:31 a.m.


Movies have been around for over a century now, and in those 100+ years the art form has woven itself into the fabric of our society. From an early age we are introduced to Walt Disney's franchise, and as we get older our tastes branch off; some of us lean toward gross-out, stoner comedies while others prefer the spectacle of comic book movies.

There's a genre for everyone, and everyone has a favorite film; and every summer and winter, we gather together at our local multiplex to watch the latest tent pole movies and talk about them by the proverbial water cooler. We watch YouTube videos and listen to podcasts that focus on celebrities, movie reviews, or filmmaking in general. The cinema lives inside of all of us, ever latching. I believe that everyone, at one point or another, has an itch, an inkling, a desire to either make or be in movies-- they catch the cinema bug.

I remember the first time I caught the cinema bug. It was my summer vacation of 1994. I was 7 years old, and the previous year the movie "Groundhog Day" had just come out. My family decided to make the long drive from Arkansas to visit the town of Punxsutawney, Pa. My dad thought that since the movie was set in Punxsutawney, that's where it was filmed. When my family arrived, we were shocked: the town looked nothing like the movie. In fact, the movie was shot in a completely different state. It was like the veil of movie magic was lifted from my eyes, and it was at this point where I knew I wanted to make movies.

Once I got home, I got a green covered legal notepad with yellow paper and started writing terrible, unoriginal scripts with titles like "Jaws 5." Then, after high school, I went off to learn how to make movies in college.

But what happens to those people that catch the cinema bug that don't have the luxury of going to film school? Maybe they're too young, or too old, or maybe life has just gotten in the way to the point where they can't scratch this cinematic itch. Well, there's a hands-on filmmaking program that's open to people of all ages and all levels of proficiency, just as long as they have the desire and drive to create a film. The program is called Inception to Projection, and as its name suggests, it teaches novice filmmakers the entire process of how to craft a movie, from coming up with an idea in pre-production, to learning the fundamentals of using equipment on set, all the way down to screening a finished project to a crowded theater.

INCEPTION TO PROJECTION

Inception to Projection is run by accomplished filmmaker Jennifer Gerber, who describes the program as, "a six-week hands-on, intensive filmmaking course, where each participant writes, directs, edits, produces and screens their own short film." Gerber's credentials as a filmmaker and an instructor are impressive: she has an MFA from Columbia University; she was the executive director of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival; she has more than a decade of teaching experience and has worked on the set of several feature-length films, even directing an incredibly brave gay Southern love story called "The Revival."

The course was traditionally held in person, but the pandemic forced the program to switch to mainly Zoom meetings. Which, oddly enough, Gerber suggested this change has been a good thing for the course, because it has opened up the class to residences outside of Hot Springs, allowing for more participants. Before the crew sizes were around five people, but now they average around 10. In the fifth week, after spending the first four weeks workshopping their ideas and building their screenplays, students are allotted four hours to shoot their films. The last week of class is reserved for editing and post-production.

In addition to the traditional course, Inception also offers more in-depth supplemental classes that focus specifically on certain aspects of filmmaking. These supplemental courses range from five to 10 weeks and focus on things like writing feature-length screenplays, going in-depth with cinematography to help students understand how to sculpt light and giving students the chance to learn the ins-and-outs of what it's like to be a director.

FILMS PREMIERE

After all the films are complete, they premiere at the annual Arkansas Shorts Film Festival. Almost a dozen or so movies from this year's festival came from the Inception program, and it was exciting to see how proud and enthusiastic these novice filmmakers were, standing on stage answering questions from the audience about their process. They all talked about their first assignment for the class (writing down 100 short film ideas), and how Gerber had pushed them to tell personal stories. And while not all the movies were perfect, mainly because these are all first-time directors, at least the plots to their films were well thought out.

There were several Inception movies that stood out at this year's festival. Eleven-year-old Alana Faye Dunn crafted a movie called "Esme," about a young girl discovering her grandmother's diary of life during the Holocaust. While the short could have used a bit more production design, it was a stunningly impressive feat to see such a young person produce something so emotional, as well as getting her actor's to speak near-perfect German. Another stand-out film was "My First Confession," directed by Ashley Missile, about a group of young kids being led to the confessional for the first time to confess their sins to their parish priest, only to realize that they don't have any sins to confess. It's a fun, energetic short shot with style and flair. Plus, it's always bold, in my opinion, to work with child actors.

Those were just a few of the interesting films from the program; some of the others focused on themes like same-sex marriage, female troubles, and estranged wives who brainwash their husbands to stop watching Fox News. Every film was unique in its own special way. It was also fascinating to learn that several of the filmmakers had gone through the Inception program twice, which speaks volumes about the quality of the program. The program has proved itself to be a great asset to those dreamers out there who were at one time bitten by the cinema bug, who at one time wanted to be involved in film. And now they can.

Inception to Projection is currently enrolling for their next series of classes. More information can be found at lowkeyarts.org.


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