Not another teen movie
William Bronston is the chief executive officer of Tower of Youth, an annual short-film festival that showcases exemplary student movies for an audience of area youth.
He is also one hell of a character. On the day that Bronston stopped by my office to drop off a manila envelope full of screener films shown at the 17th annual Tower of Youth's North American All Youth Film and Education Day, he wore an immaculate cream-colored suit over a pinstriped shirt. He looked like Tom Wolfe but talked like Robert Evans, and is now officially the first man to ever refer to me as “babe.”
Bronston promised that the films, made by both local students as well as aspiring filmmakers from across the United States and even Canada, were of “Academy Award quality.” It was a bold claim, since most Academy Award-winning movies aren't even of “Academy Award quality,” but I'll take the Tower of Youth slate over the likes of Crash any day.
The festival featured five showcases: The eight shorts featured in Showcase 1 comprise a diverse lot that's representative of Tower of Youth as a whole, with absurdist comedies, documentaries and mini three-act dramas. Joseph Procopio's sleek opener Sundae tells the story of high-school students growing apart in the wake of a tragedy, and it has a moony fatalism that captures the feeling of young love separated.
Soren Persing's well-intentioned Samaria closes the show, and while stylistically bold, it feels the most inauthentic. It's about a racist beaten and dumped by the side of the road, where several white people pass him by before a Muslim man offers aid. At one point, we overhear a report of “tensions due to the recent terrorist attacks at Disneyland,” so perhaps Persing has a future writing Roland Emmerich films.
These films truly represent the voices of their generation, so the most rewarding entries feature a more personal and youth-oriented perspective. My favorite was Lily Yu's powerful Checkmate, which is fueled by the charging rhythms of free verse. It follows an African-American high-school student who feels like he's playing chess on a board where “there are no black pieces.”
More than anything, the movies articulate a concern for the lousy future their young makers are being handed. Before it's Too Late chronicles life in an area in rural Kentucky where mining and waste have rendered the water too poisonous to touch, while Erin Cole's witty Above Water deals with “the consequences of a failing economy.”
This is not to say that genre filmmaking and cinematic style don't have their seat in the Tower of Youth. Hank is an office comedy about a gawky wallflower whose “hobbies include showing up on time.” Even better is Charles Blecker's elegant Epitaph, featuring a death-obsessed child hero named Billy Coffin, and a quirky-humanist sensibility straight out of Wes Anderson.
The Tower of Youth's North American All Youth Film and Education Day was held on October 4, at the Crest Theatre, with five showcases of short films. Access Sacramento Channel 17 will stream the entire program on Sunday, October 27, at 5 p.m. and Monday, October 28, at 1 a.m. Films from Showcase 1 will also be streamed on the Access Sacramento website on October 28, at 9 a.m. Watch Access Sacramento on Comcast and SureWest cable channel 17, and AT&T U-verse channel 99. Visit the Tower of Youth website (www.towerofyouth.org) to learn more, and to view pictures of Bronston wearing those snappy suits.