The New Vistas video competition rewards experimentation and chutzpah
Bill Colangelo knows that turning fantasy into film can be a challenge.
So the creator of the New Vistas in Video Competition is rewarding aspiring filmmakers who meet this challenge, and perhaps inspiring those who find the challenge too daunting. Now in its sixth year, the competition will culminate in a film festival for the finalists on January 29 at Northwest Vista College, where Colangelo works as a multimedia and music professor.
"Learning how to tell a story is the big struggle," says Colangelo. Mark Martinez, an 18-year-old entrant in this year's competition, knows the struggle well. Martinez fell in love with filmmaking while participating in the media arts program at SAY Sí, a nonprofit arts program for students from San Antonio's urban schools. He and his SAY Sí peers recently collaborated on a short film called "Pet Fruit." The story invents a new craze, akin to troll dolls and Chia pets, whereby the nation is gripped by an uncontrollable fancy for owning pieces of fruit with painted-on faces.
As director of the film, Martinez faced many difficulties. "Communication was something I really had to work on," he says. "Some people would just be goofing off." But the eventual payoff was a completed short film and a chance for Martinez to win the competition's top prize: a $600 scholarship to any college in the Alamo Community College District. Of this year's 60 contestants, six will receive a scholarship; the top 12 films will be screened at the festival.
Although contestants are usually high-school or college students, the competition is open to the public. Entries must be no longer than 10 minutes and are submitted in one of three categories: fiction, non-fiction, or animation. All films are judged according to criteria, including "originality and imagination," "editing," and "extent to which entry stimulates interest in subject."
Ray Santiesteban, an accomplished local director and producer who will serve as a judge in this year's competition, understands which elements make a film memorable. As a filmmaker, Santiesteban is drawn to movies that are more experimental in nature, films that "aren't like anything else ... Every year there are a lot of horror films, a lot of shoot-'em-ups, a lot of stuff with twist endings," says Santiesteban. "But then there are a couple that are more lyrical, more impressionistic."
Among his favorite directors are Jon Jost and Jean-Luc Godard, filmmakers who tested boundaries and, as a result, expanded the "filmic language." He mentions Godard's use of jump cuts in the seminal French New Wave film Breathless as an example of how an experiment can prove highly influential. The technique, which uses blunt editing to move abruptly from one scene to the next, is now widely used in action and heist films because it dramatically increases the pace and urgency of a story.
Every filmmaker must experience a personal evolution, Santiesteban says. "The more `films` you make, the better you get." As encouragement, Santiesteban recalls the student film of one contemporary hot shot: M. Night Shyamalan, director and screenwriter of such fare as The Sixth Sense and The Village. According to Santiesteban, Shyamalan's student film (available on the Unbreakable DVD) is less than laudable. "If you see that film, it's horrible. All of the films in this competition are better than that film."
In the context of dreadfulness, Santiesteban offers insight into what makes a film bad. "The two worst things are a shaky camera and bad audio," he says. "It really drains on you as a viewer."
Linda Cuellar, professor of mass communication at Northwest Vista College, says that navigating such stumbling blocks can be difficult for fledgling filmmakers. "By creating these works, students are leaving the comfort of being passive consumers of media and crossing frontiers fraught with challenges," she writes in an essay on the competition. "They `learn` that screen magic is not magic ... it is man (or woman)- made."
"The equipment is out there," says Colangelo, adding that schools such as Breckenridge have video labs and experienced teachers. Colangelo recalls one Northwest Vista student who edited his entire film on a Sony PlayStation. "We have seen some very creative people."
A number of New Vistas finalists have gone on to forge careers in film. Colangelo mentions Zach Jones, a winning entrant who later received awards from both the San Antonio CineFestival and the Sundance Film Festival. Jones' New Vistas entry, which Colangelo describes as "experimental stop-action" and "political," used Claymation to depict two dueling figures, one black and the other white, gradually melding into one homogenous gray cube.
Another winning entrant, Adriana Garcia, now teaches Intro to Multimedia at North-west Vista College. In 2001, Garcia made a film that she intended to be a personal statement about "how we perceive ourselves and what is there that we might not notice." She characterizes the result as experimental, a surreal affair involving contrasting mirror images and a grotesque "man-creature" who devours lipstick and dolls.
Garcia describes herself as a lifelong artist who uses any medium that best expresses an idea. She believes film is especially suited for purposes such as "inciting action." She now works with a "video-media-activist collective" called RESET that presents "issues of the day through video." Garcia says the New Vistas in Video Competition inspired her to keep using film as an artistic medium.
"`The festival` reinforced my confidence that people love to see beautiful things, that they love to see art." •