The Ruth Caplin Theatre was buzzing with student filmmakers, collaborators and supporters Monday evening as attendees of the Overcranked premiere settled into a semicircle of seats wrapped around an empty thrust stage. A blank projector screen hung from the ceiling in its center. There was a brief introduction, a minute of breathless applause and then the lights went down and the screen lit up with the first short film of the night.
Overcranked is a two-semester program within the University’s drama department that supports student filmmakers in writing and directing original short films. The program is run by Doug Grissom, a playwright, associate professor and interim chair of drama, and Paul Wagner, an Academy Award-winning independent filmmaker, who teach screenwriting and directing, respectively. Students write, shoot and edit their films over the course of the year and share their work at the annual Overcranked premiere — this year, 11 short films were screened.
“It’s really a wide variety, with comedies and more serious subjects, and with different styles,” Grissom said. “Some are realistic and some are more stylized and expressionistic.”
There were a number of standout films — fourth-year College student Lexi Christie’s “Main Character” featured surreal and moving imagined sequences and an original musical number. Fourth-year College student Karen Zipor’s “A Blessing on Your Head” tackled intergenerational conflict through witty horror. Third-year College student Mia Gualtieri’s “Tug” told a grounded love story shaped by one partner’s artistic expression.
Each film represented the culmination of efforts from the Overcranked student in the role of a writer-director combined with the efforts of a producer and a whole cast and crew of collaborators. The premiere offered the opportunity for these collaborators to reunite and share in the excitement of their achievement.
“Filmmaking is totally a collaborative art,” Wagner said. He further emphasized the key role of an audience in shaping students’ experience of the program. “[The premiere] is core to the course… That’s a really powerful message to send after a year of being narrowly focused on what they wanted to say and do, to realize, wow, this is out there for the public to respond to.”
This year’s in-person premiere is the program’s first since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was clear that the communal nature of the experience could not have been replicated digitally — sharing space with other audience members created a palpable response to the work. Viewers reacted vocally with laughter, gasps and expressions of affection.
The house lights went up at the conclusion of each film, and Wagner acknowledged the cast, crew and creative team to energetic applause.
The Overcranked premiere was an exciting display of the immense talents of student filmmakers at the University. The event demonstrated the vital need for these communal experiences within the arts, offered an opportunity for collaborators to share mutual appreciation and brought the Overcranked students’ hard work to an enthusiastic audience.