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School of Communication Film Fest features variety of productions

October 24, 2013

By Travis Raymond

In conjunction with the School of Communications’ Homecoming festivities, this year’s Fall into the Arts Film Festival exhibited some of the best films to emerge from Cleveland State University’s film program in recent years.

Short film submissions came from both current students and alumni.  Themes and subjects ran the gamut from romantic comedy and psychological thriller to apocalyptic drama and avante garde music production.

Wearing many hats, Jen Poland was the film festival’s organizer as well as writer and director of several films and a music video in the night’s lineup.  Poland said festival attendees could expect good production values and fresh, raw stories from the film department’s growing pool of talent.  The festival did not fail to meet those expectations.

Nick Royak’s “Control Alt Z” opened the night.  A minor technical oversight caused the first minute of the film to play without sound.  Fellow filmmaker Anthony Zakharia dashed up to projection booth in the dark from the second row, and the film began again from the beginning with sound accompanied by cheers and applause from the audience.  It was to be a memorable beginning to a highly memorable evening of film.

With a cast and crew of 15 people, Royak, a senior, shot “Control Alt Z” in two days, 11 hours each day.  The film followed a silent introvert’s journey from a meek and mild existence to carpe diem confidence.

“We never get a chance to redo any moment we live through,” Royak said.  “The goal was to get the character to a point where he would realize that life is valuable enough to risk a little.”

In contrast to the questing character arc of “Control Alt Z” was Anthony Zakharia’s “Tub.”

Preceded by a warning that the film included strobing light effects that could affect those prone to photosensitive epileptic seizures, “Tub” was at once one of the more challenging yet riveting films of the night.

The film combined grainy, faded urban textures and rubble, smashcut between pivotal times in two brothers’ lives, with dissonantly screeching strings and mind-numbing bass.  Zakharia said he ran the music through different guitar effects pedals in order to create a soundscape linking all the images together.  Light strobes of different colors pounded the eyes of the audience at key points.  In a moment of clarity, hectic electronica, Chrispy’s “Predator,” blared and the film resolved to the frenzied flashes of a meditative state in time to the music.

“Seeing a film you've made on a big screen while surrounded by people you've never met is about as fun as it gets,” Zakharia said.  “When some people hate a movie and others love it, it means that movie is honest – it means the film was not made to pander.”

The festival had a distinctively Cleveland flavor throughout.  The filmmakers took full advantage of the city’s skyline and popular landmarks.  The city’s architecture was not the only feature of the city to contribute.  One film tapped into Cleveland’s rich music culture with a soundtrack comprised of Cleveland progressive metalers Ruled by Reason and 70s punk legends Rocket from the Tomb.

“Rocket from the Grave” told a tale of rejection, despondency, and redemption.  A newly successful Cleveland writer must step into the role of the teacher in order to pull is old mentor back from the edge.  Not even the persistent knocking outside the stage right emergency exit could tear attention from the screen during Robert Branch’s gut-wrenching monologue lamenting faded acclaim as Rocket from the Tomb raged in the background.

“Rocket from the Grave” was directed by adjunct professor John Vourlis and inspired by the short story “Writer’s Blues” by Stormcrow Hayes.  Professor Vourlis described the film as one of truly independent spirit and a labor of love and spoke with pride of the film’s cast and crew.

CSU alumna Joni Lewanski wrote, directed, and edited “Questions Sleep Can Answer.”  The film portrays a paranoid schizophrenic’s battle and hard-fought victory over the voices within her mind.

“Presenting a film at a film festival is the moment when the story of a film speaks for itself,” Lewanski said.  “As the sequence of films unfolds, each of which takes a unique direction, a filmmaker sitting in the audience is captured by the nuances of every story – it feels like discovery of the human race.”

John Gibian’s “The Red End” wove a tale of love’s longing, even as the world faced and met its end.  Cleverly lit and well-delivered, the drama closed the night and won the festival’s audience choice award.

The Cleveland State film department’s next film festival will be the winter annual Bolex Fest in December.