You know a student is serious about his craft when he casts 20 rats in his film, just for
the sake of authenticity. And the filmmaker in this case, Gilsub Choi, is terrified of rats. The Rats is among more than 100 final projects by fourth-year students in BFA Film and Video and BFA Animation premiering at the 25th Annual Dusty Film & Animation Festival, one of SVA’s most highly anticipated events of the year. Screenings will take place Saturday, May 10 through Tuesday, May 13 at the SVA Theatre.
Not only did Choi use live rats when he could have used special effects, but the plot line of his film revolves around an infestation of rats. Choi turned his phobia into a muse, but admits he had some help from a rat-wrangler. “I also had to direct a 10-foot long yellow python,” he says. The Rats stars a mysterious elderly couple who have taken in a homeless child they found stuffed inside a suitcase. When the boy goes missing, they find evidence of rats all around the house. They become obsessed with killing the rats—hence the python—forgetting all about the boy. “Sometimes just seeing them crawl all over the floor was disturbing enough to stop shooting,” says Choi. “I had to be patient to get a good take.”
Here are some others films, documentaries and animations on tap for this year’s Dustys:
Great Dayne, by Ben Duffy, is the story of a retired professional skateboarder in the Mojave Desert who has been arrested for possession of drugs while driving cross country. It is actually a segment from Duffy’s third feature-length documentary, a skateboarding love story called Ten Years Gone. His first film was We Are Skateboarders, followed by HeartChild, a documentary about a mother who, rather than give up on her nine-year-old autistic child, started a non-profit dedicated to helping children with autism through skateboarding. We Are Skateboarders and HeartChild have had some 40 screenings all over the world. “Skateboarding is the only thing for me,” says Duffy. That and filmmaking, it seems.
Skeleton Key by Meredith Nolan is an animated sci-fi film noir about a citizen’s struggle to break free from his dystopian society. Set in a city-prison, long ago thrown into darkness from the apparent disappearance of the sun, a hit man by the name of John Doe is commanded to carry out a task he has done countless times before per his “arrangements” with the authority. Then he finds a way to escape…and a chance to redeem himself. Nolan has created a world that’s permeated with Art Nouveau and Art Deco influences, and she cites the film Metropolis as an inspiration.
Courtney Vonada‘s film Junk Yard, which she wrote, designed and animated, was inspired by her grandfather’s junk business and his tales of mysterious trespassers. In it, a young girl accompanies her grandfather on a service call to retrieve a junked car. She finds herself bored at the junk yard. It’s dark. Her imagination takes over. She is lured into mysterious darkness, where she finds herself surrounded by twisted wreckage, overgrown bushes and shadowy movements. There’s something else lurking in this auto graveyard—something horrific, terrifying and hungry.
Silenced in Southie is a true-crime documentary with a haunting backstory. Stephen Rakes was a Boston-area liquor store owner who had crossed paths with famed mobster James “Whitey” Bulger in the 1980s. Evan Dolan grew up hearing stories about Rakes, who was a childhood friend of his father. “I don’t think I realized just how significant his story was until I first sat down to interview him,” says Dolan. At the time, Rakes had been planning to testify at Bulger’s murder trial. But in July 2013—just a day after learning that he would not be called as a witness after all—Rakes’s body was found in a wooded area near Boston.
The Boston Herald reported on Dolan’s work on the film shortly afterward. “No one really knew about the film until then,” says Dolan. “I was somewhat concerned about drawing attention to myself and to the documentary. I wouldn’t say that I ever felt in danger, but at the same time, I didn’t want to make it seem like I was hiding something big. Fortunately, a man was arrested for Rakes’s murder several weeks after it occurred.” And thanks to Dolan, the story of Stephen Rakes is finally being told.
Images from top down: A still from The Rats; a still from Great Dayne.