beneath the earth film festival

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Several months ago I was invited to be a member of the Grand Jury on this year’s Beneath the Earth Film Festival. My first reaction was, do I really want to be on a Grand Jury that would have me as a member? I mean, it’s not as if I’m a professional film critic; I’m just some obscure blogger who’s seen an unholy shitload of films and occasionally scribbles down some observations about them. My second reaction was, Yeah, okay, what the hell? So despite my less than impeccable credentials, I accepted the invitation and now find myself sharing judging duties with the likes of Variety’s senior film critic Marc Graser and Oscar-nominated actress Gabourey Sadibe. Which is pretty cool. It’s exciting to be involved in the process of discovering new talent. And be assured: I’ve taken my duties as a juror seriously. The seven short films constituting the Official Selection were presented to us on 10/15 and I spent a good part of the past week watching and re-watching them, jotting down notes, and reflecting on them, before rendering final judgment and casting my votes on 10/22.

While online film festivals are unlikely to supplant Cannes and its ilk any time soon, they do provide an excellent format for promoting the work of aspiring young filmmakers, which is precisely the intent behind the Beneath the Earth Film Festival – to dig up, so to speak, “underground” films that wouldn’t otherwise see the light of day and present them to the online film community. (The online format also happens to be ideal for those of us who rarely roam beyond the confines of our natural habitat: the living room. Spared the hassle of traveling to some distant location, such as, say, a local movie theater, we can simply watch the films in the privacy of our own homes, without being distracted by pain in the ass fellow cinemagoers.)

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Now that the voting is closed to jurors, I don’t mind revealing that my favorite film of the festival is Jorge Enrique Ponce’s amusing, affectionate lampoon of the social media culture, #OMGIMTRENDING. At the tender age of twenty-five, Ponce is already a remarkably assured filmmaker with a strong visual sense and a knack for writing memorably quirky dialogue (the hipster lingo the characters continually spout, though occasionally overly affected, generally outdoes Cody Diablo at her own game; I’m still chuckling over lines like, “I heard on the clothesline that there’s an after-after-party after the after-party”), while his talented cast of young unknowns works so well together you get the sense that their characters really know and interact with each other even off-screen. (The entire ensemble is excellent but if I had to single out any one of them it would be Olivia Harewood, whose expert comic timing is very much on display; I particularly love the drawn-out emphasis she puts on the word “walking” during the hilarious diner scene.)

It must be said that Ponce hasn’t yet completely broken free from the clutches of his cinematic influences (which are legion, but more on that another time). He’s still searching for his own pink unicorn. Which is okay, he’s still young. Give him time. The bottom line is that despite being pretty derivative, #OMGIMTRENDING is an outstanding effort that’s genuinely F.T.W. – fun to watch. I’ll go out on a limb here and predict that we’ll be hearing from Ponce even more forcefully in the future.

(I polled two of my nephews who are around the same age as those in the film for their reaction to #OMGIMTRENDING: one of them said it was “the best film I’ve seen in a while”, the other found it “unwatchable” due to the pseudohip dialogue. I understand his complaint; I hated Juno for the selfsame reason. But for whatever reason, the hipster dialogue worked for me here. I found it funny rather than off-putting.)

But enough of my yappin’. More to come after the winners are announced on 10/31. For now, you be the judge. Please check out all seven films here and cast your own vote.

3 Responses to “beneath the earth film festival”

  1. I thought Ponce did a great job on this film. I agree with you that he will someday be very successful.

    You mentioned that Ponce seems to be influenced by other filmmakers, I think that is natural for a newcomer. Maybe he aspires to be as good as they. I am curious as to who you think has influenced him.

  2. Hey Barbara,

    Yeah, Ponce is definitely talented. I just think right now it’s obvious he’s “borrowing” a lot from more established filmmakers. Only time will tell if he’s able to transcend those influences and develop a more original style. A bunch of films popped into my head as I watched #OMGIMTRENDING Scott Pilgrim, Donnie Darko, Napoleon Dynamite, Juno, among others. I can’t be sure, but Dusty’s cawing in one scene might be a direct reference to Owen Wilson’s Dignan in Bottle Rocket. And Antonio Ricci is directly referenced in the aforementioned diner scene! I’ll be discussing all this in more depth in my review if the film wins.

    By the way, I’ve had no contact with the other judges, and so I have absolutely no idea which film will win. It appears the audience vote is going with After Ever After. Have you watched the other films?

  3. Mat, I have two more to watch. Will send my thoughts to you after I see them. I was just going to check out some of your movie reviews , when I noticed your reply to me.