Films explore the serious and the squirrelly

The University’s student film festival put students’ visions behind the camera and in front of audiences

by Don M. Burrows

Squirrels run rampant on the University campus and only a “chosen one,” a combination of “The Matrix’s” Neo and “Star Wars'” Luke Skywalker, can challenge their evil overlord.

It’s no wonder that “Squirrel Factor 2” won Audience Favorite at this year’s University Film Festival, a year after its prequel took the same prize.

Zach Nichols and Kyle Van Someren blend impressive special effects with laugh-out-loud humor in their 30-minute parody, which stars more than a dozen University students. The film continues a concept the team conceived last year.

“We were wondering why the squirrels on the campus act so skittish and weird,” Nichols said, “so we decided to make a movie about it.”

Besides being hilarious – the film’s main character has a tendency to make exclamations in the form of cookie names – the special effects rival professional productions.

Nichols, a studies in cinema and media culture major, said last year’s film was done on a basic JVC, but this year they sprung for an HD camcorder. He then went frame-by-frame to add the glow to the light sabers’ animation over the live action.

Were any squirrels harmed in the filming of this production? No, Nichols said. He pointed out that almost all the squirrels in the film are stuffed. One scene, however, does feature a live squirrel running alongside a brick wall, the closest the filmmakers came to incorporating actual animals into their movie.

“Unfortunately, we had to corner him and I think we kind of pissed him off,” Nichols said. “I’ve never heard a squirrel bark before. But they bark.”

“The Squirrel Factor” was one of four films to win awards at the festival: Two shorts and two long-format films were chosen by the judges and audience alike as favorites.

Andrea Gardner, whose long-format “The Four Ms” won the Judges’ Favorite, said her movie is presented in the New Wave style. She originally made the movie for a French and Italian film studies class. The voiceover (which is in French) tackles the issue of media’s control over society.

“The message is pretty blunt in the film,” she said.

Indeed, the film takes us through downtown Minneapolis to show the permeation of advertising all around us, from billboards to the sides of buses.

Equally unique is “Dreamer’s Bloc,” which combines 3-D animation with live action. Hunter Jonakin, Lloyd Travis,

Joe Lipscomb and Chris Dinsmore made the film for a 3-D animation course through the art department. The loosely connected scenes combine for a surreal effect.

“I think it ended up that way because each person did a different part,” Jonakin said.

The 3-D format allowed for a broad array of possibilities, Jonakin said.

“It’s pretty fun because you’re kind of limitless in what you can do,” he said. “Anything you can imagine you can put in there.”