"Who cares about time?"
So asks the lowly protagonist of "Time," the Audience Award winner at Knoxville Films' inaugural Knoxville 24-Hour Film Festival. It's a key line in Skyshot Films' circular, oblique Twilight Zone homage, tossed off by a sullen drunk but carrying the weight of the entire film on its back. Whatever it may have meant to the character, time was surely a consideration for Skyshot Films, a team of filmmakers who had exactly 24 hours over the weekend of Aug. 21 to conceive, script, produce, and edit a four-minute film.
In keeping with similar contests around the country, including our own defunct Marble City 10-Hour Film Festival, the time limit wasn't the only guideline. To keep things interesting—and level the playing field against anyone who would attempt to start before the allotted 24-hour window—three elements had to be present in each film: a landlord, a dictionary, and the phrase, "Try to be incognito when you meet them."
The resulting films, screened prior to the awards ceremony last Thursday at the Bijou Theatre, were almost universally impressive. The most striking trend was the use of the four-minute running time for structural experimentation, as exemplified in "Time." What happens in the film is open to interpretation—the filmmakers insist a longer cut is forthcoming, though at four minutes it had the most accomplished rhythms of the festival—but there is the suggestion of a fractured chronology. Pocket Cheese Productions' "Swept Up" was even more daring, taking a low-key domestic squabble and folding the narrative in on itself using a simple but thoughtful effect.
Mistakist's "IMG_0502.MOV," on the other hand, opted for simplicity. Its story of a tragic late-night party is unconvincingly moralistic, but its execution—shot in one long, impressive take on an upright iPhone—gives it a visceral novelty. (Mistakist received the festival's "Disposable" award in recognition of its alternative cinematography.) This was a nice contrast with films like team Friendship's "Granted," which intercut quiet drama and a high-energy chase in the story of a coffee heir who discovers his late father's secrets. "Granted"'s magnificent production easily earned its Best Director and Best Cinematography awards, but its technical confidence couldn't disguise an unfulfilling narrative.
It's no surprise that many of the films gave in to the allure of thriller-style mayhem. (WBIR's Erin Donovan, the screening's bemused emcee, pleaded for a more comedy-centric slate of films at next year's competition, which will be bumped up to June.) Among the darker entries were the strange, profane "Father's Day" and "Breakfast With a Serial Killer," recipient of the Best Horror Film side award. But out of all the intentional unpleasantness, Post-Retro's "House Call" may be the most memorable. Despite modest production values, the porno-style set-up is amusing ("Incognito—to conceal one's self using a hot, sexy disguise," reads the lusty protagonist, from a dictionary, to her landlord) and its mid-scene twist was the festival's most effective scare.
Still, there was no shortage of laughs. Team Awesome's "Definition," an award-winning entry in the festival's student category, showed off a knack for comic timing, and used the stipulated line of dialogue to better effect than any other film. ("Try to be—inconsistent when you meet them," an actress in the film-within-a-film flubs, before eventually getting it half-right.) The absurdest sketch comedy of LewboLee's "Paying the Rent" similarly laid claim to the evening's best landlord, and Badlands' "E.A." featured an inspired comic performance by Best Actor recipient Matt Dearman. The best of the comedies? Invaders From Mars' witty, accomplished sci-fi sketch "Lord of the Land," the most convincingly arty film at the festival but on many levels also the silliest.
Two of the most satisfying films managed to balance darkness and levity. Hey That's My Bike won Best Screenplay for "Sorry Business," a surprisingly biting and well-performed sketch about a devious undertaker, while Broken Entertainment's "Death by Committee" emerged as the night's most impressive total package, earning a Best Ensemble award for its excellent cast while also showcasing the evening's tightest tone, scripting, and composition.
Not all the films were strictly narrative. The jury prize for Best Film, in fact, went to Reply All's polished, high-energy music video "Rhyme Slaya," a well-produced piece of prep-hop that worked in the festival themes to an enormously credible degree but used its format to shirk the storytelling challenges shouldered by the other films. More universally approved in its success—winning both jury and audience prizes for Best Student Entry—was Road Scholars' beautifully shot and edited fiction/nonfiction hybrid "Hoops of Hope," which uses much of its running time to chronicle a young boy with Down Syndrome during a day at a University of Tennessee basketball camp and ends with an affecting turn into public-service-announcement territory. It also featured the best end credits, thanks to "Catering by Grandma & Dad."
For more information about Knoxville 24-Hour Film Festival teams and entries, visit knoxvillefilms.com, or stop by the Old City's Aisle Nine grocery at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 3 for a shortened program of the 10 winning films.