Friday, September 21, 2012

Lights! Camera! Action! Peace River Film Festival, Take Two

Once again, I'm dating myself, but one of the creepiest movies I've ever seen is "Carrie," Brian de Palma's adaptation of the book by Stephen King.  I remember the prom scene vividly with the telekinetic powers of Carrie White/Sissy Spacek spinning wildly out of control as she realizes that the whole evening is a cruel prank at her expense.   Fast forward to opening night of the 2012 Peace River Film Festival and the feature-length film "Parapsychology 101" by Dan McCarthy.   I have to admit that the description of the film didn't sound that interesting to me.  "After losing funding for his work, paranormal researcher Dr. Allen Greer has devised a way to continue his research and experiments with dozens of willing test subjects.  His plan?  Become a teacher of parapsychology, where his students will secretly double as test subjects.  They are about to get a much more hands-on learning environment than any imagined."   I wanted to show my support for the Festival, though, so I found myself in the audience as the lights went down.

The film grabbed me from the start with its documentary approach.   The opening scene is an interview with a college administrator who is explaining the rationale for having offered a parapsychology course.  We know that something is awry, but can't tell if it's just a controversy over a goofy topic being given credence or something darker.  Cut to Day One of the class, with Professor Greer asking his students (and, implicitly, the audience) to set aside their skepticism.  He tells the class about his prior work at the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Lab (PEAR--which actually did exist!) involving the "interaction of the human consciousness with the physical world."  Yes, like in "Carrie," we're talking telekinesis.  The students' first homework assignment is to video themselves attempting to make little paper umbrellas move through the sheer force of their wills.   As the semester proceeds, the homework and in-class projects get more intense as the kids start to unleash the power of their subconscious selves.  Two students are singled out as having particular "promise," and Professor Greer cultivates them for his project, going so far as to hypnotize one of the kids during class to "help him" remember his deepest secret and access its power for telekinetic purposes.  The film is interspersed with interviews with the students (who increasingly believe in their powers), which added a nice counterbalance to the classroom scenes and homework projects.  As the movie moved towards its denouement, you could tell that it was not going to have a happy ending.  Even though it's unlikely that you'll see this film yourself, it cuts too much against my grain to tell you what happens.   (If your curiosity is piqued, though, you can get a sense by watching the trailer at

One fun aspect of the evening was that there was a short Q&A with Dan McCarthy, the filmmaker, after the screening.  We learned that "Parapsychology 101" was McCarthy's senior project.  (He is a student at the Art Institute of Jacksonville.)  McCarthy shared that he literally dreamt up the idea for the film.  He has always had a vivid dream life, and telekinesis is a regular part of those dreams (which is a bit scary).  So the topic seemed a natural choice for his project.   The actors--who did an incredible job--were by and large fellow students, although the guy who played Professor Greer is a professor in real life who acts on the side (which explains why he seemed so natural in the role).  After some prodding, McCarthy divulged that he made the movie for something like $400.   What a world we live in.

It was an exciting start to the Festival, which is in its second year.  The offerings over the week-end range from Student Film Shorts to a Double Feature Experience to Cell Shot Films (which, for the technologically challenged among us, means a film shot with a cell phone).  I'm looking forward to taking in a sampling of these films over the week-end.   Maybe I'll see you there!

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