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MIT filmmakers and their letters to the unknown

Everything Must Change, directed by Michael Majoros, produced by James Kaufman. Address Unknown, a composite of five films conceived and produced by John Gianvito. Featuring directors Cindy Kleine, Karine Hrechdakian, Jim Campbell, Luc Courchesne and John Gianvito. Both films were shown on Thursday, November 21 in the Wiesner Building Bartos theater.

With the increasing costs of 16 and 35mm film production, the plight of the independent filmmaker for self expression has become increasingly desperate. The legwork alone to fund an independent project would be enough for a dramatic screenplay. Moreover the Hollywoodian format of the full-length feature film has dictated the commercial viability of film projects, thus dooming the widespread distribution of shorter, artistic efforts.

The format chosen by Gianvito in Address Unknown may well be the only effective way for financially impotent filmmakers to take on the big studios on common ground. In this composite effort five independent filmmakers were required to create a cinematic interpretation of a letter written to an entity of their choice. All five segements are in black and white.

Cindy Kleine's (G) opening piece, Letter to an Unborn Child has an incredibly soothing visual quality and rhythm. The audience can feel free to mentally dance and frolick with the images of Cindy, her gorgeous child co-star and an ephemeral man which we guess is either Cindy's husband or boyfriend.

Yet such wonderful cinematography does not interfere with the nostalgic plea expressed by Kleine; maybe that of a woman who will never be a mother. The women in the audience may find it easier to relate to the issue of bearing children, but the texture of the film is enough to keep anyone enchanted: regrettably for only 11 short minutes.

John Gianvito, the conceiver of the project, received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the California Institute of the Arts. Then he came to MIT as a graduate student in the Master of Science in Visual Studies program. He earned his degree in '81 and has been a member of the Film/Video department faculty ever since.

His particular piece, entitled Letter to a Romantic Ideal, is an unusually personal collection of images and sequences which reveal some of the turmoil present in his life, either now or in the past.

A fish tank filled with disquieting objects is symbolic of Gianvito's own psyche and the tormenting images which dwell in it: pictures of Vietnam, deathly mannequins, clouds of choking fumes, struggling sea-horses. This otherwise soft-spoken individual reveals himself to us through the medium of his art. His torture is perhaps more meaningful to those who know him. I hope we can infer that his suffering is over, if not from his reserved behaviour on campus maybe by his reassuring yet tentative smile at the end of his segment.

Graduate student in the Master of Science in Visual Studies program, Karine Hrechdakian, directed the 19 minute segment, Letter to an Innocent Victim. This is the story of Georges, a close friend of Hrechdakian, who was shot by a sniper while driving in Lebanon. The theme is distressing. I kept thinking of how the experience of seeing a film dealing with the death of a close friend of the filmmaker, was any different from the filmmaker getting up on stage and verbally recalling the events. It was in Hrechdakian's use of imagery that I found my answer.

In the beginning, the images of Karine driving in the Lebanese countryside are not rich enough to relate to the devastating reality of her experience ... until we see some super-8 footage of the victim skiing while on holiday with Karine. Then suddenly the suffering crashes on the audience like a tidal wave as one witnesses the unquestionable existence of her lost friend. The saddening irony lies in that the most moving imagery is the also the most primitive -- like the images of a home movie.

On a similiar fatalastic note, the most disturbing piece is that of Jim Campbell '78. Letter to a Suicide is a film addressed to Campbell's older brother ("wherever he may be") who took his life at the age of 31, thirteen years after having been diagnosed a schizophrenic.

The content of the letter is shocking. It should make us all think what issues filmmakers should feel comfortable in addressing to their audience. The answer is simple: it is up to them to decide, and up to the audience to respond. A more interesting question might be why does a filmmaker decide to use a theme which is thought appropriate to be shared only with the most intimate of friends and relatives? The answer is perhaps as complex as the filmmakers themselves. I am tempted to say that the tragedies which may occur in our life, if survived, become a great source of creative energy. Campbell channeled the energy from his tragedy into Letter to a Suicide in much the same way Van Gogh, Lutrec, and Keats incorporated their suffering into their art. In a novel approach Campbell doesn't use one single "live" person in his film. All monologues performed by his mom and dad are seen by the audience on a video monitor, as prerecorded on video tape.

Last of the five is Luc Courchesne's Letter to the Unknown, perhaps the most difficult of the series to endure. It's long periods of silence, darkness and distorted sounds catch us unprepared; in the same manner as The Unknown might.

Michael Majoros Everything Must Change is the kind of film that I would pay for George Burns to see. The film explores old age as it affects ordinary people like ourselves only older. By comparison, it makes a film like On Golden Pond seem a trivial dramatic exercise. If you feel that the lovable oldies of the entertainment world (including Ronald Reagan) are worthy of respect and admiration wait till you see the old folks of Everything Must Change.

Majoros camera brings us into the most proximal of relationships with the cast, as it meanders through the reharsal for the show they are to present. By treating the structure of performance this film gives a tangible idea of what it takes to survive as an aged person in an unyielding world. The courage shown by the main characters and their curator is uncommon. A completely blind woman, a semi-blind man and their three octagenarian friends prepare themselves for a musical performance of caliber, where they will all act and sing.

In the credits we learn that their musical was performed at 11 different locations in the Greater Boston Area. In the film we are given the chance to applaud their unparalleled performance. But as we clap louder, hoping for an encore, our hopes diminish because everything must change.

Corrado Giambalvo->