Halloween weekend saw Burlington College Cinema and Film Production students become winners of the Vermont International Film Festival’s Sleepless in Burlington event, winning two out of four awards. In addition to the overall event, they also took home the awards for Best Actor (Stephen O’Dwyer) and Audience Favorite.
Burlington College, the University of Vermont, St. Michael’s College and Middlebury College participated in the competition. The contest, appropriately called Sleepless in Burlington, pitted the college crews against each other in conceiving, writing, casting, shooting and editing a complete film within a 24-hour period.
Advisors and students met on Friday evening to receive the criteria for their films. They consisted of two quotable lines from a classic horror film, an iconic Burlington location relating to the city’s identity, a prop (candy corn), and a local celebrity. Allan Nicholls, a Canadian-born local actor, producer, director, and musician whose screen credits include numerous collaborations with Robert Altman, was the chosen celebrity for his portrayal of “Canadian Guy.”
The Burlington College students shot the marquee at the Flynn Theatre, photoshopping the title of the movie, used the basement at Ira Allen Chapel as a theater and a railroad car as another filming site. The College was home base.
Friday night was spent in writing the script. A casting call with a group of 15 local and regional actors was held at 10:00 on Saturday morning. The crews then lit out into the cold to put their scripts and ideas into action.
Barry Snyder, former chair of the film production program at Burlington College and creator of the Lake Placid Film Forum’s Sleepless in Lake Placid, organized the event; the first time that it has been held in Burlington. Michael Fisher, who teaches an advanced film production course at Burlington College, was coach and advisor for the weekend.
Five Burlington College students took part in the Festival; Tobin Jordan was director; Aron Meinhardt was primary writer and sound recordist. Tony DiFonzo assisted in writing and shot the process with plans for a documentary on the film’s development. Noah Petrie was cinematographer and editor, and David Littlefield, who suggested the title of the film, handled the lighting and special effects, including the fog machine.
The College’s film, “Strangers in the Night,” also starring Emily Lyons, tells the story of a couple on their first date, as they attend a showing of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” Upon their exit from the theatre, the scene turns into a 1950’s black-and-white film noir atmosphere; fog sets in and suddenly some creepy characters are out to get the couple, Fisher said, with the couple ultimately hiding out in a railway car.
Describing the movie as “psychological,” Jordan said, “Things are never quite what they seem; sometimes the horror in a movie can actually become the reality of your life.”
The films, shown Sunday evening at Palace 9, were judged by Cynthia Close, President of Documentary Educational Resources; filmmaker Arthur Bell; and Oscar-nominated screenwriter Hawk Ostby.
Though it was a trying time for everyone involved due to the cold, the effort was deemed well worth the experience.
“You just had to ignore how exhausted you were and try to be as focused as you possibly could,” Jordan said. “There was no room for anything else but the task you were doing.”
She gave special credit to the actors, who wore summer attire. They were “troopers,” she said, who “put themselves in another world and made it look completely natural.”
“I just think everybody in general learned quite a bit about the filmmaking experience and how to manage your time,” she said, “and we just had a great bonding experience.”