The 48 Hour Film Project is a pressure cooker — for participants and judges. Each team of filmmakers has two days to write, shoot and edit a 7-minute film of a randomly chosen genre. And the judges have just a few minutes after watching the 30-plus films to choose the best entry. I had the honor of judging Indy's contributions in the international competition on Saturday night.
When I joined the other judges at the IMA, sponsors from the art collaborative Big Car quickly treated us to some beer — free beer is the best kind of beer. Then they led us into the Toby Theater, where we sat in a balcony overlooking the action like Roman emperors at a gladiator game. We joked about giving a thumbs up or thumbs down after each film like the emperors did after the gladiators battled. But the atmosphere of the screening wasn't grimly competitive. The filmmakers buzzed with a giddy, childlike exuberance that rumbled through the walls of the theater.
"This crowd is kind of rowdy. I like it," my fellow judge, Ben Johnson, said behind a wide grin.
The film teams cheered when their entries appeared on screen. I noticed a few filmmakers watching with a certain detached wonder, as if they couldn't believe they were seeing their work on the big screen.
When the screening ended at midnight, Big Car's cultural programs director Anne Laker whisked us away to "the green room," where we had to pick the winning film and runner-up.
Three films stood out — Bobby, Dessert and Wonderful Neighbors. The team behind Bobby lost some points for deviating from its assigned genre — detective drama — and taking a detour into horror. But it's one hell of a horror film, elegantly embedding otherworldly elements in an ordinary suburban setting. It has one of the best uses of an evil clown that you're likely to see.
Dessert struck us as the best example of its genre, dark comedy. Lit like a jazz club in Mad Men, it revolves around an old-fashioned dinner date that grows hilariously creepy. Our choice for the best film, Dessert will go to Hollywood for a screening at Filmapalooza in the TCL Chinese Theater.
A comedy about suburban superheroes, Wonderful Neighbors was the runner-up. Fellow judges Amy Pauszek and Scott Tucker fought hard for this one while Ben and I argued in favor of Bobby and Dessert. "You guys have dark minds," Amy quipped.
Although we had only 30 minutes to decide before we were locked in at the museum, our choices were hardly rushed. These three films jumped off the screen and into our notebooks, where we wrote copious positive comments about them. And we managed to squeeze in discussions of other excellent entries, bouncing in our seats with delight despite being under a time crunch.
When Laker came to gather us at the end of the night, she said something that applied to everyone involved in the 48 Hour Film Project: "Thanks for showing grace under pressure."