Great Shorts at TCFF

One of the biggest highlights for me at the Traverse City Film Festival was the “Great Lakes, Great Shorts” Program which featured 8 short documentaries. I don’t take the time to see a lot of shorts as film festivals are one of the better ways to see them and I don’t go to many. However, with my growing interest in local film I was more than usually intrigued by the program.

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Reflections on Re-Watching Movies

I'm going to hazard a guess that from time to time you have watched a movie with a bunch of your friends and told them all, "I loved this movie when I was younger, we gotta watch it," only to discover that it didn't hold up. Often times, you feel sort of embarrassed that you wasted your friend's time or made them believe something was going to be good but then let them down.

Perhaps the greatest shame I have felt at such a moment was born of the realization that I too, have subjective taste and the fact that I once liked something doesn't mean it was good. Sometimes I like some real garbage. That is a pretty rude awakening to someone whose identity is too wrapped up in their own opinions on movies and how others perceive those opinions.

In the last year I have re-watched a lot of movies (Mutiny on the Bounty, Donnie Darko, Garden State, Book of Eli, Guardians of the Galaxy) which I would have said I loved. Her are 5 things I learned as I discovered the ways in which these films held up or don’t hold up.

Loving a Memory

When I was younger I didn’t have the film taste, specific language, or understanding of film craft to really form solid memories of scenes. Even now when I think of old films which I grew up with such as “The Empire Strikes Back,” I rarely remember more that a single shot as a standalone in a larger scene. What I really remember are lines in the film. I could quote that movie up and down but trying to recall which shot comes next in a sequence or what the shot structure of the Ewok/C3P0 scene is, well… I just don’t recall.

What I love about most of those films is a memory. What I felt like or what I was doing at the time. I truly wonder if I would think movies like the Jack Ryan Trilogy would be as good as I remember them. I know “Dark Crystal” doesn’t hold up for me. It’s fun in spots but largely it is slow. What I love about Dark Crystal is not the film but the way I felt when I watched it as a kid. The feeling of excitement, fear, and wonder that I possessed and felt at the time. Not the story.

The Taste of Art

Re-watching has also allowed me to see certain themes in my movie viewing, even from a young age. knowing that even as a child I like the movie and story “The Last Unicorn” simply emphasizes how even at that age, story was fascinating to me, as well as themes of mortality, destruction, and creation.

I would have never put it that way when I was 10 but it is an area of unending interest to me and always has been. Looking back I can pretty confidently say, it always will be.

I also notice that many of my favorites as a kid were hugely influenced by my dad and mom. If a show was too annoying or didn’t interest the adults, it might be a favorite for a short time, but it would never stand the test of becoming a perennial favorite. My parents were pretty good about not making us turn something off just because it annoyed them but watching the movies my dad liked helped me form a sense of what it is in art that is beautiful or worth actual attention or not.

Especially with my dad, it wasn’t till years later that I discovered how good his taste in films is. I know that I learned or inherited this taste from him and am proud to keep continuing this tradition and eventually pass it on to others even as I learn from them.

The Teenager Inside

The harder thing for me to come to grips with as I re-experienced my movie choices as a younger man was that I was still a child and many times still act like one when it comes to what I watch. I’m not going to sit here and act like I haven’t made “mistakes” in my life with film. I’ve made a lot of them. Movies and Images that I wish I could delete from my memory. Ideas I engaged with for longer than was good for my soul. As will surprise few of you, for one with such a visual imagination, many of my regrets and sins revolve around films and my actions regarding them.

The teenager in me didn’t think it was a big deal if I let my mind be shaped by course and violent humor. It didn’t see the man that would grow from his choices like I can. I could never have known that you don’t naturally grow out of childish things, you determine too. And so I do. Time and time again. I find myself watching what I shouldn’t or joking how I shouldn’t and I have to reset my resolve. Again.

Thank God for his mercy and grace.

Never Finished

As I reflect upon the lessons I’ve learned over the years, as I engage in my own personal flashback, I find that I reach a sort of solemn and pleasant peace. I realize that, just as my younger self chose any film that stoked his immature desires for excitement, violence, sex, and self-exultation, he also learned a craft from those films. He slowly journeyed toward God even as he grew to love movies more till one day he will have discovered that the films he loves are also the best for his spirit and for those around him.

I’m not there yet, but I think I am closer than I was 20 years ago and that makes me think that someday I will get there.

In My Opinion

As I wrap up these rambling reflections, I realize that thinking about these things makes me more excited than ever for the ways that film will be in my life and bring me joys and friendships and spiritual experiences for the rest of my life and in the near future. I am excited to learn more and become even more mature in my understanding and tastes. I am more certain than ever that my current thoughts on film are far from my final thoughts.


Written By:

Michael McDonald

This just in... Trailers Are Advertisements


Written By:

Michael McDonald

This video from Vice News may have posted a while back but the phenomenal popularity of and interest in movie trailers hasn’t slowed so why should I?

In case you aren’t a movie student or marketing savvy individual and you haven’t watched the above video, let me summarize it for you.

Movie Trailers are big business. They used to be just little summaries of the movie but with internet discussion and dissection of trailers becoming its own cottage industry, trailer culture is at an all time high. More people watch them, entire youtube channels are dedicated to them, fan theories spark from them, they have their own red carpet premiere events and awards shows, and of course, businesses have risen to create more and more attention grabbing trailers than ever before.

This should come as no big surprise. As our culture becomes more media dominated our attention spans and bandwidth for an entertainment source that lasts 2 1/2 hours has severely lagged. Our obsession with business and commercialism, our short attention spans, and our addiction to ephemeral chemical releases in our brain have all conspired to create the true alternative to film: trailers.

I’m not saying that movie trailers are useless or anything like that but it is strange that people seem so obsessed with a form of ‘art’ that is tantamount to writing ad copy. If you doubt me, just Watching the Vice News video will tell the tale. They openly admit that the purpose of a trailer is not about showing you what the movie will be like but rather, convince you to see it. They drop in sound effects and standard music hits as a sort of language or AV buzzword that will spark those dopamine hits to create a favorable association.

What strikes me is not that this is the case. Anyone with one eye open can see the crass commercialism in it, but what does strike me is how willingly we participate in the process. Freaking out over every 20 second, voice overed, and tantalizing teaser doesn’t make the movie better, doesn’t validate anyone’s opinions, and doesn’t do anything more that convince studios that the trailer strategy they are employing is working. They put a COMMERCIAL online and people watch it so many times that they actually get ad revenue on top of the fact that we watch their ad.

Your opinions, what you watch, what you engage with, and what you share with your friends has value. Don’t sell yourself short. Do what you can to resist the corporate hype machine which mines people for what they find valuable about them. For some, this may mean you decide not to watch trailers anymore. For most people, it means just being aware of what trailers are and how we engage with them.

Can you imagine calling your friends and sharing with them the Walmart ad on black friday? Maybe? How about doing a dissection video of the ad, trying to glean facts about the product from it and speculating about the eventual purchase? Not so much.

That really is all a trailer is these day. It’s fancier, flashier, and Inception-Bwooooong-ier, but at the end of the day, it’s still a glorified commercial.