One of the parts of those glorious pre-pandemic days that I miss the most is going to the movies. There’s nothing like grabbing a bucket of popcorn, sitting down in a dark hall and watching some great art (or, you know, some pretty cool superheroes). And while there isn’t anything like the big screen, the Studio North screening on April 13 of short films made by Hopkins students was a truly lovely night, powered by students’ passion and creativity.
The screening featured three shorts — one a web series finale and the others short films — funded by grants from Studio North, a production company run by Hopkins students. The movies were almost like a throwback to a past era; they were all shot right before the pandemic began and were supposed to be screened last year.
The first screening was part of a web series called “The Comedienne” by senior Katherine Gillis. As the name indicates, the show follows the life of an aspiring comic, Katherine (Class of 2020 alum Abby Johnson), who tries to make her dreams come true while struggling within a web of internal anxieties, outward pressures and complicated college friendships.
We saw the series’ finale, which was the culmination of her performing stand-up in front of a crowd, only for the performance to bomb in a way I can only describe as disastrously funny. The performance goes from Katherine mistakenly playing a podcast about menopause rather than her walk-on music, to nervously discussing how whenever she smokes weed she gets "too snacky" and wants to "comment on Palestine." Finally, there was a failed attempt at a poop joke and a triumphant faint on stage.
I particularly enjoyed the comedy of errors routine and the witty, acerbic dialogue. I found it to be similar to one of my favorite shows, Curb Your Enthusiasm. Gillis even mentioned during the Q&A that Curb and comics like George Carlin influenced the show.
“Sugar,” the next screening, was a short film written and directed by senior Jakob Pollack. The story follows the life of Jared (Guy Nolet), a boy in an increasingly adversarial relationship with his father, who finds Jared’s fascination with ants to be strange and harmful. It plays as a sort of metaphor for growing up — Jared wants to explore unconventional ideas and be free to explore his interests. The pushback from his father isolates him, until the only person Jared can confide in is an old man named Ralph (Tom Lyle) who is obsessed with fish.
We then see Jared and Ralph meet at an aquarium, where in front of a background of fish and isolating blue light, they talk and eventually kiss. Jared comes home that night and is shocked to see his father has found out what happened. Jared then travels to Ralph’s home, only to find he has a wife and child and that Jared’s father has already commanded him never to speak with Jared again.
Overall it was a melancholy, and at times disturbing, tale of trying to find companionship in all the wrong places. As Pollack mentioned in the Q&A, the story was based on “coming of age” and “feeling out of control.”
The final show of the night was quite a switch up. Titled “It’s a Love Story” and made by Class of 2020 alum Daniel K. Matsumoto, the short film is a poignant exploration of grasping at young love in a rapidly-changing world. It follows the story of Ben (Jerrel Barnes), who is practicing a song on his ukulele about asking out his best friend, Emily (Sedona Salb).
We learn that Emily is going to be leaving Baltimore for college, while Ben is going to stay in the city. They spend a whole day — Emily’s last in the city for a while — exploring their old haunts. Their day progresses from friendly banter about the “toxic rivers” and constant sirens of the city to a sort of creeping tension between the two of things left unsaid. One of the most frustrating moments was watching Ben, who has been carrying his ukulele case waiting for the right moment, attempt to pull it out to play his song — just to realize that he forgot the ukulele at home.
It feels like a lost cause, like a divine intervention to prevent the relationship, but Ben goes to a music store with Emily, buys a pink ukulele and plays his song. While the song plays, we see a montage of what their relationship will be, or could be — living separate lives in college, as video calls brimming with happiness move to ones of regret. And yet, Ben asks her out. It’s almost like we, and perhaps Ben and Emily, see the way things could or will go, but it doesn’t matter. Ben still asks. And Emily still says yes.
The short was a great way to finish the screenings and the Q&A that followed gave the night an informal air, where the directors responded to questions and comments from the audience. The discussion ranged from the filmmakers’ rationales to stories of last-minute shoots before the pandemic set in, to their future careers. I had a great time, and would encourage any Hopkins students interested in filmmaking to take advantage of Studio North; it certainly was a boon to these artists.