Monday, April 30, 2012

Talented Newbies

One of the most exciting things for anyone in the arts is to see the fruits of a fresh, young talent blossom into maturity. While the general public may be riveted to shows like American Idol, The X Factor, So You Think You Can Dance? and The Voice, a new crop of filmmakers shows great promise.

What I find particularly impressive is that this new generation of filmmakers has grown up in an era during which computer literacy in multimedia programs is a given. Many started editing graphic images and videos at an early age.

While some have been working with digital cameras for years, they have recently been joined by aspiring filmmakers who use smartphones to record footage. No matter what technology they have at hand, some are shaping an artistic vision which shows greater insight and maturity than most people their age.

No one expects a teenager to suddenly be hailed as the next Mozart, Pablo Picasso, or Martin Scorsese. But, as three films screened at the San Francisco International Film Festival clearly demonstrate, an impressive new generation of filmmakers is starting to deliver some very exciting work.

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One of the student curators from Berkeley High School's Communication Arts and Sciences program who took part in an internship offered by the Pacific Film Archive is a young woman named Fifer Garbesi. While traveling to the small village of Mampong in rural Ghana during the summer of 2010 (as part of group from the Experiment in International Living), she recorded footage of her journey.

The fact that her short film, Osuto, could be edited and accepted into a major international film festival within two years of the teenager's return from Africa is testimony to the professional support film students like Garbesi now receive from nonprofits like the Bay Area Video Coalition and The Factory in Oakland.

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In her recent editorial in The New York Times entitled The Flight From Conversation, psychologist Sherry Turkle mentions "a 16-year-old boy who relies on texting for almost everything. [He] says almost wistfully, 'Someday, someday, but certainly not now, I’d like to learn how to have a conversation.'”

One of the shorts which left the deepest impression on me was the work of 16-year-old Joseph Procopioʼs, a Canadian teenager whose first long-form narrative film demonstrates a surprising level of depth and maturity for a teenager. In the course of 10 minutes, Onion Skin (Procopio's 11th short film) depicts some of the challenges teenagers face in expressing themselves in long form in an age of abbreviated texting and intense peer pressure.

Using actors and a technical crew recruited from seven high schools in the province of Ontario, Procopio's film was mostly filmed at St. Thomas of Villanova College in King City. Onion Skin includes some beautiful scenes shot at Toronto Pearson International Airport. This amateur footage of Ingo Maurer's water sculpture, Earthbound... Unbound 2003, shows what a wonderful backdrop Procopio chose for a scene in which two teenagers tentatively explore their feelings for each other.

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A graduate of the Korean Academy of Film Arts, writer/director Joong-hyun Kim's first feature, Choked, goes a long way toward capturing the sense of futility that hangs over a South Korean family. In Seoul's depressed economy, Hee-Su Park (Hae-Yeon Kil) had been trying to sell a nutritional supplement purported to have helped a post-menopausal Nancy Reagan to start menstruating again. Her friend, Seo-hee Lee (Se-Jin Park), is a single mother who recently got arrested for trying to sell designer knockoffs.

Hee-Su had previously borrowed money from Seo-hee, who now needs it badly. After Hee-su vanishes with all of her family's money, her son, Youn-ho Kwon (Tae-goo Um), tries to pull his life back together. What he would really like to do is find an apartment which could show his fiancée, Se-kyung Hong (Chae-Young Yoon), that he's stable and serious about their future.

Se-kyung (Chae-Young Yoon) and Youn-ho (Tae-goo Um)
are young lovers at the beginning of Choked

Unfortunately, Youn-ho's introduction to Se-kyung's mother doesn't go well.  Nor does his work for a local real estate developer who has hired Youn-ho to force older tenants out of their apartments. After the materialistic Se-kyung breaks off their relationship, Youn-ho gets badly beaten by the son of a man who had a heart attack and died after being attacked by Youn-ho.

Youn-ho (Tae-goo Um) tries unsuccessful to start a new life

In some ways, Choked resembles 1999's Magnolia, in which Paul Thomas Anderson strung together a series of personal dramas for a cluster of Los Angeles-based losers. However, as their financial and emotional problems continue to deepen, none of the characters in Kim's film get any relief.

Nor do frogs rain down from the sky.

That being said, Joong-hyun Kim and his talented cinematographer, Jin-keun Lee, have put together a compelling movie. There were times when I found it difficult to follow exactly which character was falling deeper into debt at any given moment, but there was no questioning the film's appeal and craft (especially for what was essentially a 110-minute-long graduate project for Mr. Kim). As the beleaguered Youn-ho, Tae-goo Um displays a haunting presence as a young man who has no control over his life. Here's the trailer:

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