Lights, camera, action. "We have very spirited, independent-minded students," says Joe Bookchin, director of film and video production at Burlington College. He's one of a dozen faculty members who teach everything from editing to special-effects technology. The classes draw some 70 undergraduates, about 40 of them majoring in the field. A selection of their work will screen Wednesday, May 11, at 8 p.m., during the school's fifth annual festival of shorts. For the first time, the event is being held at Higher Ground in South Burlington.
"We always do this at the end of spring semester," Bookchin notes. "It's a roundup of approximately 20 narrative, experimental and flash-animation productions shot in digital video and 16mm formats."
Flash animation is "a fusion of hand-done and computer imagery," he explains, adding that the process is "tedious and time-consuming."
"You feed the computer a drawing," says Jack Austin, the school's development officer.
The free showcase of shorts includes "The Mind's Eye," a coming-of-age saga by Matthew Walters about two brothers who grow up in an orphanage; and "Sushi," Rebecca Heller's cinematic tale of sexual awakening.
"This event appeals to younger people," Bookchin surmises. Old fogies, however, will not be turned away.
A teenager in turmoil is the focus of Nothing Like Dreaming, Nora Jacobson's feature-length drama that begins a one-week run this Friday at the Firehouse Center for the Visual Arts in downtown Burlington.
It's a fitting venue for the film, in which the girl befriends a troubled older man who's building an enormous fire organ with titanium, stainless steel and glass pipes. Jacobson commissioned a real-life French artist, Michel Moglia, to create the installation that appears in the movie. After she translated the screenplay into French for him, he came to Vermont in 2001 to make the "instrument," which sounds a bit like a soulful foghorn with a hint of bagpipes.
Jacobson's sister Antoinette has since created a portable version that she'll play outside the Firehouse at 7 p.m. on opening night.
Dreaming will also tour Vergennes, Randolph, Woodstock and Stowe, as well as New Hampshire and Massachusetts. "We're putting in place a distribution strategy for the rest of New England and the country for the summer, fall and winter," Jacobson says. She hopes to then find art-house bookings in major markets such as New York and Los Angeles before securing a television deal for the picture.
"I don't know if it's a model that can work, but I am going to try," Jacobson vows. "It's also fun to be on the road and see lots of audiences respond."
Meanwhile, Jacobson and Burlington-based filmmaker Allan Nichols are collaborating with playwright Steve Goldberg, who's at work on an autobiographical script about mourning the recent death of his wife, folksinger Rachel Bissex. She was a star of Nothing Like Dreaming, which screens at the Firehouse through May 19 at 7:30 p.m. nightly and 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
At 17, Jake Pirkkanen knows precisely what he wants to do in life: make movies. Dreams are apparently coming true for this Salisbury boy, who was in third or fourth grade when he first dabbled in the medium with an old VHS camera found in the attic.
Now a senior at Middlebury Union High School's Career Center, Pirkkanen is thrilled that his five-minute "Das Panik Factory" will play on May 14 at the Westport Youth Film Festival in Connecticut. The plot concerns "a kid searching for his parents and running into all these crazy people," he says.
That description doesn't convey the piece's stylized approach, an exercise in early 20th-century German Expressionism. Think Nosferatu or The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. "I used surreal angles and sharp contrasts," explains Pirkkanen, whose paternal grandparents hailed from Finland.
"Panik Factory" was shot on digital video at Lyndon Institute last summer during the two-week Fledgling Films program, in which he has participated for three successive years. It began as an improvisational lark when Pirkkanen and his crew wanted to ditch a boring assignment. Back home, he re-edited the footage to capture the look of vintage 16mm stock.
Such technical wizardry also comes courtesy of the Career Center, where Pirkkanen's days are evenly divided between courses in film production and acting. He and pal Gavin VonKarls -- his "Panik Factory" cinematographer -- will head to Maine this fall. Both were accepted by the Rockport College Film School.
"It's everything I always wanted," Pirkkanen says of his good fortune. Could be the legendary luck of the Finnish.