Tim O’Connor has mixed feelings about legendary film director Terrence Malick, whose latest film, “Tree Of Life,” starring Sean Penn and Brad Pitt, won the Palme d’Or this year at Cannes. Malick is a legendary figure in Hollywood, not only for having directed only six feature films in a four-decades-long career, most notably “Days of Heaven” and 20 years later, “The Thin Red Line,” but also for the painterly cinematography and unconventional editing of his films. O’Connor, a rising junior at Vassar College, says both “Days of Heaven” and “The Thin Red Line” have been “a big influence” on him. But O’Connor is not yet sure if he likes Malick’s latest work.
“‘Tree of Life’ moved me. It is bizarre, but worth seeing — it’s different from what I’ve seen before,” O’Connor says. “Malick is a god in my eyes, a very visual filmmaker, and this film is even more so than his previous movies. This one is a real experience. Malick is known to improvise, even throw scripts out the window, which is an interesting way of doing things.”
Malick is just one filmmaker and writer who has sparked O’Connor’s interest in the field. O’Connor has enjoyed showing his films at the Princeton Student Film and Video Festival, Wednesday and Thursday, July 20 and July 21, at Princeton Public Library. This is the third year O’Connor has had his work shown at the festival, and he will have two films screened. (Some of the films, including O’Connor’s, will also be screened at the Artist Visions Film Festival in Lambertville on Friday and Saturday, July 22 and 23.)
The first, “Gum Glut Morning,” written and directed by O’Connor, is a morality tale, where the one character has to make a decision about the direction of her life. The moody, rather European-styled short silent film was shot on a Bolex 16mm reflex camera, with Kodak Vision3 color negative film stock, technology that young filmmakers often don’t have access to.
“These cameras have a wild motor, hand cranked, which really is a throwback,” O’Connor says. “It’s amazing that the Vassar film department gives us access to this equipment. It would be expensive for (an independent filmmaker) to be able to use a camera like this. These cameras were developed for war photography in World War II, and ours are updated versions, but similar to those made in the ’40s and ’50s.” “Gum Glut Morning” screens on Wednesday, July 20.
O’Connor’s other film to be screened is “The Thing in the Lake,” a black and white silent short, which will delight fans of horror and suspense films of the ’40s and ’50s. Even the original soundtrack, by his friend, Ryan Shreves, has that spooky, expressionistic sound you would recognize in a certain retro genre of film.
“We were going for that over-the-top, not schlocky, but hyper-stylized feel,” O’Connor says. “The story is based on H.P. Lovecraft’s short stories, not any one in particular, but that kind of vibe was the inspiration. “The Thing in the Lake” screens on Thursday, July 21.
“For these films, because of the equipment, I was forced to make them silent, but my senior thesis project will be a 20-minute film with sync-sound, so there will be dialogue. There is a lot to be learned in telling a story without dialogue, though.”
A lifelong resident of West Windsor, O’Connor says he made his first film at age 10, a stop-motion creation starring a set of Legos he got as a gift. He played around with filmmaking for years, but got serious about the craft while at West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North, from which he graduated in 2008.
O’Connor’s father, Bill, works in the finance department for the Medicines Company in Parsippany, and his mother, Maureen, is a nurse at High School South. O’Connor has three siblings: Michael, 20, a rising junior at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia; Shannon, 16, and Kathleen, 14.
Though learned the nuts and bolts of filmmaking in high school, O’Connor says he didn’t watch a lot of classics and foreign films until college, and hadn’t yet assembled a roster of influences. “I grew up watching ‘Star Wars.’ I must have watched it 100 times,” he says. “But in college I came to like American directors like John Ford and Sidney Lumet. Also foreign filmmakers like Fellini and Truffaut, and the German expressionists from the ’30s. In fact, ‘The Thing in the Lake’ was inspired by that era. Books and writers were just as big of an influence, and I was always reading as a kid, or being read to by my parents.”
Another recent film that sparked him is “Blue Valentine,” the 2010 romantic drama starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. It’s a bittersweet dose of reality for those considering a relationship, O’Connor says, “a real heavy hitter. The acting style in the movie is very immersive and improvisational. I like that it’s kind of the ‘new method’ style. It’s exciting that directors and actors are taking the film school aesthetic and bringing it to mainstream movies.”
The Princeton Student Film and Video Festival, now in its eighth year, is open to filmmakers age 14 to 24, including high school and college students, as well as students who are homeschooled or those done with school.
Susan Conlon, teen services librarian and the festival’s coordinator, says the event has grown from just area high school students to a gathering of talented young filmmakers from the tri-state area — and as far away as California. “One of the most important things about this festival is that the filmmakers are exploring, and it’s great to have people take interest in their work,” Conlon says. “This support might make a difference for them as far as their direction is going. It also gives them an incentive to grow their film from an idea and make it happen. We had 95 entries this year, and the entry process itself requires a lot of thought and creativity.
“It’s a nice mix, and it’s not unusual to show a film by a high school kid who just started to make films, to college students who are screening their senior thesis projects,” Conlon says. “It’s also fun to see kids returning with their new films, seeing how their styles are changing. We’ll show 23 films over two nights this year, most of which are accomplished and creative. You can tell that a lot of time has gone into them, whether it’s shooting or editing, or crafting well-told stories. They’re all inspired.”
In addition to giving young people an opportunity to show their films in public, the festival has become an entertaining evening of movies in a variety of genres, as well as intriguing discussions with the filmmakers and a fun after-party.
O’Connor highly recommends the festival for young filmmakers who are considering submitting their work. “It’s a welcoming place for new people,” he says. “I’ve been involved there for three years, and it’s been a great experience each time. It’s a really nice community and we’ve had great discussions.”
Princeton Student Film and Video Festival, Princeton Public Library, 65 Witherspoon Street. Wednesday and Thursday, July 20 and 21, 7 p.m. Screening of original films created by high school and college students. Free admission. The screenings are intended for a teen and adult audience. Some of the films will also be screened at the Artist Visions Film Festival in Lambertville on Friday and Saturday, July 22 and 23. 609-924-8822 or www.princetonlibrary.org.