How do you judge?
When you are dealing with such incredible diversity in films, how can you possible say which film is better than another film? There are short films, some 30 seconds long, alongside 2.5 hour epics. There are documentaries and narratives. There are classic movies and experimental movies.
How do you judge?
Then there is the concept that judging is not necessary. After all, each filmmaker is passionate about their work. They share their creative and artistic vision with us. They bring their own, unique voice to each and every film. Why judge that? Why not just sit back and appreciate the effort; enjoy the film. For the most part, that is the attitude of LanceAroundOrlando. It’s why we don’t fill out the audience awards ballets. Heck, we love them all–even the ones we don’t like. Every film has something to say; something to teach. Even if the lesson is only: “Don’t ever do THAT when you’re making a movie!”
But we have to be realistic. There are only so many hours in a day. Not everyone can attend every film. Some unfortunate movie goers may only have time to watch one or two films during the entire festival. They need a barometer; a way to make a decision of which film to go see.
For the most part, I try to give my readers an objective, balanced voice about the films. “Here is what I see,” is what I like to say. Sometimes a film is so good, I depart from that and tell you it must be seen. Sometimes a film is so bad I advise you to skip it. (Yet even those films were chosen by someone who thought they were good enough to be in the festival!) Mostly I just give you one person’s perspective and a little information to help you make the chose of which film would be best, given your particular tastes. Here is a brief outline of the criteria I use when making an evaluation, from least to most important:
Technical Considerations–Is the film lit so you can see the characters? Can you hear the sound okay? Are the sets, costumes, makeup and props adequate to develop the story. Sometimes this aspect can be a thankless job as many movie goers only notice the technical considerations when they go wrong. It’s easy to realize that you can’t see someone when the lighting is bad, but not so easy to appreciate the work that goes into providing the perfect light to really enhance the atmosphere or mood of a given scene. Also, I give a lot more leeway to a documentary, when it comes to technical considerations, as it is much harder to control them in spontaneous filming as opposed to in a studio environment.
Directorial Choices–How was the scene crafted? Did the director use close ups? Establishing shots? From what angle did the director choose to shot the scene? And why? Are all the actors in character? Are the performances all consistent? Should the director have done another shoot of that scene?
Editing–A good editor can fix a multiple of technical and directorial errors. One of my primary considerations when it comes to editing is the pace of the movie. Is the tempo consistent? Does the movie drag or move through scenes too quickly? Does the editor spend just the right amount of time on each scene? A well edited movie can create the same internal rhythm as listening to a well constructed poem. If you find yourself unconsciously tapping your foot in perfect rhythm to the “beats” of the movie, you are watching a perfectly edited film. Lastly, it does not matter how long a film is, as long as it is the right length for the story that needs to be conveyed. One of the most remarkable films I saw at this year’s festival was exactly 5 seconds long–and 4.5 of those seconds were the credits!
Acting–Does the actor understand the depth of the character. Can you see the subtext in their faces. My favorite way to evaluate acting in a movie is not by how they deliver their big, dramatic lines, rather by how they deal with silence. Even better, watch the actor in the background who is not engaged in the dialogue of the moment. How are they reacting? What does their face show? A brilliant actor is one whom you want to watch, even if they are in the back of the scene, merely reacting to what is happening in front of them.
Story–First and foremost, film is a medium for telling a story. While the writer is the genesis for the story, it goes well beyond the script. Everything else–all the technical aspects, directorial choices, editing and acting–are designed to support, enhance and present the story. Does everyone in the film understand the story? Does each and every choice support the story and move it forward? Are there any scenes that don’t? If so, they should have been cut. Are there any gaps in the story? If so, they need to be filled in. Often, a documentarian will use voice over narration to help bridge the gap in a story. Sometimes a narrative film will choose an informational subtitle. When crafting a film, every decision has to further the story in some way. But keep in mind, there are some films where the “story” is unconventional. For example, in some films the “story” consists entirely of visual images or, perhaps, scenes designed simply to create emotional impact. These films may not rely on the typical, narrative storytelling technique. But make no mistake, even these films tell a story–and you have to ask yourself how well they do at conveying this story.
The Intangibles–Lastly, the mark of a great film comes down to difficult to define, yet recognizable intangibles. How does the film move you? Did the filmmaker expose something real and personal? Are you touched by what you saw? Does it educate you? Does it show you truth? Does it give you a different perspective? Does it help you understand? Here’s a heavy one–are you, somehow, a different person for having seen this film? Great theatrical events throughout history have impacted entire nations. Films can truly inspire and motivate us. Those that do deserve to be talked about.
Based on all these criteria, there was one film at this film festival that, in my humble opinion, stood above all the rest. It is this year’s choice for the LanceAroundOrlando Best Film at the 2010 Florida Film Festival. And the honor goes to…
Chris Billing for his remarkable, personal documentary, “Lost Sparrow.”
congratulations, Chris, on a fantastic film. And, thank you, for creating a movie that touched me and helped me to see a very painful subject with a fresh perspective.
There were many great films at this year’s Festival. But if you only have time to seek out one of them, don’t miss “Lost Sparrow.” You can order the DVD from their website.
If you have seen this film, please leave a comment and share your thoughts with us. If there was another film you liked better, please join the conversation and tell us which film and why.
My last post was an in depth interview with Chris Billing. Be sure to read it!