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Student film shows us a new side of Oxford

On a fateful Tuesday night last week, a friend and I ventured into deepest Cowley to witness the OUFF summer showcase at the Ultimate Picture Palace. After the president of OUFF (Oscar McNab) spoke, promising a drink for whoever asked to meet the filmmakers first, the lights darkened. Two hours later we emerged, ready to inflate our own senses of self-importance by thoroughly criticising some fascinating films.

The most memorable film of the night was undoubtedly Cracked Screen. It was directed by Trim Lamba, a recent Oxford alum, and has received great critical acclaim, picking up several awards.

The entire film was shot on Snapchat, which made it extremely intimate, as if it was playing out on the surface of a smartphone. The acting was so engaging and the format so immersive that the film felt completely real. Lamba’s film highlighted the fact that big budgets and extensive camera crews are not always necessary to create brilliant film. In the case of Cracked Screen, the piece was genuinely engaging, not in spite of its small budget, but because of it.

After the movie’s big turning point everyone in the audience was frozen and silent, and as that film was the last of the night, the silence continued after the credits rolled.

Given the film’s heavy end, I wonder whether it was the most effective film to conclude the night with. It didn’t exactly leave you with warm, fuzzy feelings.

Of course, OUFF was under no obligation to make the audience leave humming show tunes. In fact, none of the films were particularly uplifting, with the trend being towards darker, introspective pieces.

The only particularly humorous film was Wandering Eyes, which started out as a seemingly sinister drama and turned into a romantic farce.

It was often tonally inconsistent, as the audience couldn’t tell whether or not they were supposed to be laughing or concerned throughout. But once the laughing began, it didn’t stop.

Hugh Tappin contributed immensely to the hilarity; somehow, regardless of what he was actually saying, he managed to make all of his lines incredibly funny both in Wandering Eyes and Various Faces. The latter mostly felt like an excuse to film some really gorgeous shots of Oxford at night. The opening shot was one of the more memorable of the entire evening — just 30 seconds of a guy walking towards the camera in and out of streetlamp light. Beautiful, if indulgently long.

Ambiguity reigned in Various Faces, as the main character (Adam Goodbody), who walked about Oxford at night with a gloomy face, encountered a silent girl who disappeared – presumably either dead or an ex, a question viewers may have found themselves asking more than once over the course of the night.

One of the best documentaries of the night, Everyone Listens to Turbo Folk, seemed significant and wide in scope but felt incomplete: there was almost too much to cover.

Director Una O’Sullivan managed to talk to an impressive range of Serbian people from different musical backgrounds, but for a movie with “Turbo Folk” in the title there was surprisingly little turbo folk and a lot of folk, pop, and alternative.

Despite this fact, it was obviously with difficulty that she attempted to entice her subjects into discussing turbo folk. In one memorable scene, she went to a radio station and asked the hosts about it, they were scandalized, responding “We would never play such trash on our station.”

The director was, therefore, not only impressive in her stylistic control, but in the fact that she actually found people willing to discuss turbo folk. As a viewer, it’s very easy to criticise and pick holes in student films. But it is impossible not to be impressed by their success in producing such content on such low budgets in such short time. There is truly so much more to praise from the line up of exciting and inventive films.

The OUFF summer showcase uncovers a whole world of creativity, imagination, and skill that should not be underestimated. It seems that many students at Oxford are not only engaged in the trends throughout film today, but are also more than capable of bringing their own original and aesthetically pleasing little wonders to the screen without the big budgets or huge support that the mainstream industry receives

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