A drawer slams like a gunshot. Condolence cards are tossed away. A young man collapses, overwhelmed by memory, his eyes bright with shock and loss.
In “Grieve,” director Sagar Brahmbhatt depicts bereavement as a kind of delayed reaction — a time bomb that never really stops exploding. The wordless, five-minute film unfolds elliptically but with startling emotional clarity. The title is at once description, advice and gentle command.
“When you experience loss, there’s this notion — especially among men — that it’s somehow weak to show emotion,” said Brahmbhatt, a sophomore Film & Media Studies major in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, who also serves as and a peer counselor with Uncle Joe’s. “But internalizing that pain, holding it in, is not healthy. You have to let yourself go through the grieving process.
“You have to let yourself feel.”
In May, “Grieve” will be screened as part of the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, arguably the world’s premier film showcase. It is an impressive achievement for Brahmbhatt and his principal actors, fellow Arts & Sciences sophomores George Gathiani and Adon Wade-Currie.
“Floor is Lava?”
Yet remarkably, “Grieve” is not the only film by Washington University students going to Cannes this year.
“Floor is Lava?” was directed by sophomore Evan Gates and produced by junior Nick Rule and senior Emma Quirk-Durben (all Film & Media Studies majors in Arts & Sciences). Co-written by Gathiani, the film is playful and buoyant — a perfect rhyme for the children’s game it depicts — but also slyly pointed. Senior Michael Maley, slouching in a dark blazer, is sick of bills, taxes and credit cards. “I just want to be a kid again,” he thinks, face lighting with inspiration. “I just want to play.”
Bouncing about the room, Maley chats with a toy dinosaur and mourns a unicorn who unwisely descends to the carpet. When hunger strikes, an amused Carly Rosenbaum (also a sophomore) delivers pizza. But soon their conversation turns to the nature of responsibility, prompting Maley to a final gesture of semi-comic defiance.
“The film is about a young man, probably a few years out of college, who is now facing the harsh realities of adulthood,” said Gates, a regular WUTV contributor. “And in dealing with these pressures, he experiences a sort of early midlife crisis.
“He wishes everything could be simple.”
“Grieve and “Floor is Lava?” are among 28 student works from around the nation that will be screened at Cannes May 25-26 as part of the Campus MovieFest short film program.
Founded in 2001, Campus MovieFest is a sort of traveling workshop and festival for aspiring filmmakers. Over the years, the group has provided professional training, equipment and support to thousands of students and awarded more than $2 million in cash and prizes.
Last September, Campus MovieFest staff spent a week in residence at Washington University. Students had five days to script, film and produce their shorts.
“We finished the script at about 4 a.m. on the third day,” Gates said. “Three hours later, we were up and shooting.”
“Holding the camera rig, filming for 10 hours… It’s physically hard work,” Brahmbhatt added. “By the end of the day, my hands would be shaking.”
Nevertheless, participants completed 14 films, which were then screened at the Danforth University Center and archived at campusmoviefest.com.
From that group, “Grieve” and “Floor is Lava?” were selected for Terminus, the Campus MovieFest Grand Finale in Atlanta. Both won Jury Awards, making them eligible for Cannes consideration. “Floor is Lava?” also won a Silver Tripod award for story, while “Grieve” won a Silver Tripod for performance.
Passion and talent
In Cannes, both films will be shown at the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, the festival’s primary venue. They also will be available for on-demand viewing May 22-28 in the Short Film Corner.
“It’s a little intimidating,” said Brahmbhatt, who will attend the festival with Gates and Rule. “But it’s also pretty exciting. Cannes is one of the world’s great film showcases. Just being there … it’s a crazy honor.”
Unlike many festivals, Cannes is not open to the public. Attendance is strictly limited to filmmakers, distributors, journalists and other industry figures. But as accredited guests, the three students will have free reign to attend premieres, walk the red carpet and interact with film professionals.
“Last semester, I interned with Stories International, a production company in Los Angeles,” Gates said. “So I’ve seen something of the Hollywood paradigm. Cannes is the other end of the spectrum. Attending is a privilege for any young filmmaker.
“There’s a lot of talent on campus,” Gates added. “‘Floor is Lava?’ required no money to make — just time, energy and initiative. The passion here is quite remarkable.
“I hope other students see this work and think, ‘Oh. I can do that too.’”