Virginia Lee might be too young to remember The Gong Show, but she certainly understands the concept: How long can someone watch an amateur, and often bizarre, act before it needs to be put out of its misery?
Since September, Lee, a junior in the Writing Seminars, has been living her own version of the cult 1970s variety/game show. In Lee's world, however, the celebrity panel, padded mallet and golden gong have been replaced by a handful of fellow students, a VCR and a remote control.
As a member of the 2002 Johns Hopkins Film Festival committee, Lee had a portion of the responsibility in deciding which of this year's nearly 130 submissions made the final cut. For every one gem received, Lee says, there would invariably be two "not so stellar" offerings. As an example, Lee remarks about one film that started off as a Lifetime Channel-like drama about a middle-aged woman and then abruptly and inexplicably transformed into a dark comedy in which the lead character slices off someone's ears. The aforementioned film, Lee says, will not be part of this year's festival.
"We basically said when we were screening films that if we ourselves can't sit through it for more than five minutes, then we are turning it off and rejecting it," says Lee, the event's publicity chair. "We tried to accept things that are not going to waste anyone's time, hopefully."
So, screened for your viewing pleasure, the Johns Hopkins Film Festival returns to Baltimore this week.
The fifth annual festival kicks off at 8 p.m., Thursday, April 11, with a presentation of waydowntown, a comedy about four young office workers who bet a month's salary to see who can stay indoors the longest.
An outlet for independent and often financially challenged films, the four-day event this year will include 15 features and more than 60 short and long-short films. Screenings will be held at Shriver and Gilman halls on the Homewood campus and in Mountcastle Auditorium on the East Baltimore campus. Displayed formats are 8mm, 16 mm, 35 mm and VHS. The majority of films will be shown in Shriver, the largest screening facility in Maryland.
The Johns Hopkins Film Society started the festival in 1998 to provide a forum for feature-length and short films that the public wouldn't otherwise see. This year's program features award winners from other festivals, such as Slamdance and the New York Underground Film Festival, in addition to independent creations from local, national and international filmmakers. In keeping with tradition, the fest also will screen a cult classic, which this year will be Dog Day Afternoon, the 1975 film starring Al Pacino.
Integrated into the JH Film Festival will be the Mideast Film Series Frontiers of Dreams and Fears: New Cinema from Iran and the Middle East, a new series co-sponsored by the JHMI Office of Cultural Affairs and the Johns Hopkins Middle Eastern Student Associations.
Jason Shahinfar, the event's director, says that more so than in previous years, the 2002 festival is highlighting the works of young filmmakers, including the first annual Student Filmmaker Showcase, comprised of mostly Hopkins undergraduate productions.
"We definitely have a soft spot for student filmmakers," says Shahinfar, a junior majoring in biology and film and media studies. "We'll be showing works from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, Swarthmore, Skidmore, and we got a lot of stuff from USC and UCLA."
For both Lee and Shahinfar, the festival is about promoting films that are far afield from the glossy, big-budget Hollywood fare.
Shahinfar's personal favorite is Hacks, a fake documentary in the same vein as This Is Spinal Tape, about a group of talentless stand-up comics heading to a festival in upstate New York. This same Northeast setting is the backdrop for the more serious Standing by Yourself, an award-winning documentary about a small group of teens wasting away in their hometown.
Lee says that in organizing the festival's schedule the committee endeavored to cater to all tastes.
"We'll also be showing some experimental films that get a bit on the wild side," Lee says. "But we just love those."
Admission to all screenings is free for Hopkins students, staff and faculty with ID. Tickets for others are $3 per show (though some are free), $5 for a day pass and $15 for a festival pass.
Film Fest 2002 is funded by Hopkins' Student Activities Commission, the Debate Team, Johns Hopkins Middle Eastern Student Associations, HSA Programming Committee, JHMI Office of Cultural Affairs and the festival's submission fees.
For more information, go to www.jhu.edu/~jhufilm/fest/ or call Jason Shahinfar at 410-235-4636.