Chaotic shooting schedules, sleepless nights and the always mad rush to meet deadlines are familiar to independent filmmakers the world over. Somewhere between that second and fifth pot of coffee, time slows to a crawl, and even 48 hours can seem like an eternity. The 48 Hour Film Project, an annual and international filmmaking event, was started in May 2001 by Washington, D.C. filmmakers Mark Ruppert and Liz Langston to address the question: Can a film be made in less than two days and, if so, can it be watchable?
Seven years and thousands of films later, Ruppert and co. have replied to skeptics with a resounding yes. Three years ago, Albuquerque joined the ever-expanding list of more than 60 participating cities all over the world, one that encompasses New York, Washington, D.C., Paris, Singapore, Mumbai and many more. Each city holds its annual competition on a different week.
The guidelines for making a 48 Hour film are simple: Each filmmaking team is assigned a genre, a character (this year it was either a male or female receptionist, Tim or Tina Walton), a prop (an automobile part) and a line of dialogue ("I forgot we had this”). Finally, each team is responsible for organizing its own cast and crew and providing equipment, then writing, shooting and post-producing the film before the two days are up.
On premiere night, the lobby was packed with filmmakers, cast members, their friends and family, and even a roving gang of extras in Old West costumes from the entry "Las Vegas New Mexico 1875." A blue hearse straddled the curb outside of the marquee, with its one occupant, a fake corpse by the name of Mrs. Bates, chilling out in a coffin. Both the car and the body are stars of the highlighted selection "Spared."
There are few categories more difficult, especially in the 48 Hour format, than comedy. In "Spared," actor and team leader Jerry G. Angelo of Fireborn Films collaborated with director Tantri Wija of ShadowPlay Pictures to write and produce a supernatural comedy about two angels, Red Death and Black Death (Angelo and co-star Paul J. Porter), who get stranded when their blue hearse gets a flat.
Foregoing the morbid subject matter while delivering strong performances from a big cast of goofball characters is "Tinkerin'," from filmmaking team The In-Famous El Guapo. Screenwriter, director and editor Matt Page set his short film in Tinkertown, a wood-carving and Western memorabilia museum just off New Mexico Hwy. 14 in the East Mountains. Plucky star Ravenna Fahey is under duress as Tina Walton, receptionist at Tinkertown, having to deal with her eccentric boss (played by English actor and little person Hugh Elliot) and the car troubles of a mysterious stranger: a shy detective played by Christopher Dempsey.
“An Easter Story” by Los Chupacabros explores the story of Zombie Jesus, played by director, screenwriter, camera operator, editor, etc. Diego Romero. The protagonist uses Easter eggs to revive the dead and explains, once and for all, whatever plastic eggs might have to with the resurrection.
With films like “Under My Skin,” the 2006 Winner of the Duke City Shootout, Burque filmmakers have proven their affinity for the dark and macabre side of cinema. “Skin” star William Sterchi returns as a creepy hotel receptionist in Heatstroke Productions' "Down the Road," in which a young couple on “vacation” finds their hotel room overrun by lost souls.
The use of photography and set design lends the feel of a waking dream, with rich colors and an excellent soundtrack. A broken-off steering wheel, carried absent-mindedly by Rebekah Wiggins' female lead, suggests a violent death. Director Hannah McPherson presents Albuquerque's University Lodge, with its vintage interiors and nostalgic decor, as an indifferent limbo/purgatory that is hard to forget.
"Water Torture," by Make Film, Chop Wood, examines three different interpretations of the title in a dark, Orwellian setting. The look of the film is much more monochromatic, with diffused colors and dark shadows. Collaboratively directed and produced by Marc Calderwood and Cindy Kemp, the film resembles a twisted nightmare, in which star Courtney Cunningham is waterboarded before being brought before her inevitable, tragic fate. Having suffered a water-related trauma as a young girl, Cunningham is doubly convincing and deserves recognition for her dedication to this shocking, unsettling film.
Ultimatum's "Homeland" also uses ambitious visual techniques in portraying the struggle of its unassuming protagonist, a regular guy (played by Aaron Work) who wakes up in a ditch with a corded phone receiver in his hand. His futile flight from an omnipresent Homeland Security Agent and the brainwashing of his girlfriend via syringe injection of an unknown substance drive him to an inevitable conclusion and his embrace of “freedom.”
Husband-and-wife directing team Aaron Kreltszheim and Lana Lasater of ARK Film Productions, LLC set out to incorporate their assigned genre into the broader context of a Western, and the result was "Las Vegas New Mexico 1875," the story of an outlaw coming home to his daughter. His tenderness for her leads to his downfall at the hands of her lover, the town sheriff.
In all, 115 people worked on this film, including the filmmakers' son and daughter, along with many professional Western re-enactors, many of whom brought their own costumes to the filming location at Bonanza Creek Movie Ranch in south Santa Fe. Kreltszheim, who made many of his contacts for the film riding horses in the New Mexico wilderness, made the film for under $1,200. Art director and property master Dusty Webb had little time to transform the set to fit the period but did a marvellous job.
Kreltszheim and co. are currently working on a full-length Western work, Rainbow Girl. Due to the presence of so many key resources, this shorter companion piece was made in what seems like record time for a film involving so many extras in a period setting.
"Home" deserves recognition for its fine script and the sympathetic realism with which it builds its story about a couple (Meghan Mead and Joseph Cody) driven apart by financial woes, alcoholism and imprisonment. An automobile part serves as a token of their first meeting, and when the protagonist finds himself incarcerated for drunk driving after their separation, the film's visuals pinwheel with surreal, nightmarish flashes. Producer Jason Bonnell of Worldwide Strike Force met a challenging genre with a touching story of redemption.
“Basket Case,” by Lost Film, is the festival's only animated feature and is a dark take on Little Red Riding Hood. Paper cutouts are briskly animated, and the fairy-tale atmosphere is conveyed by a tangle of creepy trees. Characters are artfully constructed, so that when a mischievous yellow imp enters, the audience is convinced. Marika Borgeson, James Kwan and Tomas Watson collaborated in writing, directing and shooting the film.
The 48 Hour Film Best of New Mexico Screening and Awards Party will take place Friday, Aug. 1, in the Grand Ballroom of the Hyatt Regency Hotel (330 Tijeras NW). Starting at 8 p.m., the top 11 films will be screened. Admission is free and the event is open to the public.
The 48 Hour film winner will also be screened at the Duke City Shootout Gala Premiere Night on Saturday, Aug. 2, at the Kiva Auditorium (401 Second Street SW). The event begins at 7 p.m., and tickets are $19 per person. For more information on the Duke City Shootout, see Reel World in this week’s film section.
Find out more about all of the films and read filmmakers' stories about production at 48hourfilm.com/newmexico.