What would Martin Scorsese produce if he had 24 hours to make a film - including post-production? Or Jonathan Demme, or Quentin Tarantino? Maybe that's what actor Matthew Modine, who's worked with directors of that caliber, was wondering when he proposed to Lake Placid Film Forum Artistic Director Kathleen Carroll that she host a 24-hour filmmaking competition at the annual festival.
Five teams of students from nearby colleges participated in "Sleepless in Lake Placid" over the weekend of June 15-16. They scurried around the small town, scouting out locations and filming, then returned to their dorm rooms to edit. On Saturday night, they screened the finished products for judges. Syracuse University walked away with the Robin Pell award from the panel, which included Tunbridge filmmaker John O'Brien (Man With a Plan, Nosey Parker).
But Burlington College film students snagged the audience award for their deadpan comic fantasy American Cheese. In a season of bloated flicks about guys in Spandex, the Burlingtonians worked the theme of superhero parody: They concocted a plot in which Uncle Sam has to revive the spirits of a moody Captain America, who's sick of rescuing people who don't appreciate him. Best line: "Everybody always asks where Spider-Man is!"
Brent Harrewyn, part of that team - which also included James Daly, Georgia Pantazopolous, Ian Yaple and John Iozzo - explains the parameters of the contest in an email: "We had to open the film with the discovery of a dead body, we had to reference the [1980 Lake Placid] Olympics, we had to reference John Brown the abolitionist, [and] we needed the Palace Theatre [the festival venue] in a shot." All those elements are worked into the finished film, albeit not always seamlessly. ("John Brown" appears as the name of a drink.)
In Lake Placid, Harrewyn says, he "went a total of 38 hours without sleeping" and "edited for 14 hours straight." He adds that the team "even researched the relationship between Captain America and Uncle Sam, inserting factual elements from the comic series" such as the "super soldier serum" that revives the flagging hero and his history of fighting Nazis in World War II.
Via slapstick and silly costumes, the short film reminds us that superheroes were once patriotic icons, not just popcorn sellers. But Harrewyn thinks audiences could read a less lighthearted subtext into the moment when Captain America "resort[s] to violence after his American flag balloon (bubble) gets popped." Michael Moore would approve . . .