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The Winter Film Awards Indie Film Festival Depicts Characters in Unfamiliar Worlds

Genelle Levy
Tristes Deserts - a Robot's Tale (2015)

Study Abroad 2: The Daydreaming Bunny, The Similars (Los Parecidos) and Tristes Deserts - a Robot’s Tale provoke delightful discomfort.

Strange people in strange places seemed to be an ongoing theme in the films featured at this year’s Winter Film Awards Indie Film Festival in New York City. This year’s line-up featured many award-winning filmmakers. Although relatively unknown outside the indie circuit, many have garnered local press attention for their recent works.

Such filmmakers include Stephanie Winter, winner of best experimental film at the Sardinia Film Festival, Yung-Jen Yang, a previous Winter Film Award winner and Isaac Ezban, indie film veteran who has racked up 11 wins at the Austin Fantastic Fest, Baja International Film Festival, Morelia International Film Festival and several others.

Yang’s film Study Abroad 2: The Daydreaming Bunny is probably the most lucid interpretation of a character thrown into a strange world. This film is the sequel to Yang’s 2014 film Study Abroad, which features the challenges and hardships of Chinese international students studying in the US.

Study Abroad 2 focuses on young art student Xiaotong, who aspires to have her artwork shown in a professional gallery. She works hard to battle homesickness and make money from her craft while trying to impress her conservative Chinese family.

Study Abroad 2: The Daydreaming Bunny (2015)

The film is juxtaposed with cartoonish illustrations of a bunny frolicking in a hand drawn world created by Xiatong’s imagination. These scenes function effectively as a dream sequence, which often reveals Xiatong’s subconscious and the true worries embedded within. Xiatong’s best friend, Qianqian helps her crowdfund enough money to display her artwork in a gallery, which allows her mother to attend the exhibition.

Although it shows a unique side of international student life that hasn’t been previously spotlighted, for the most part Study Abroad 2 is a feel good film with a foreseeable ending.

Ezban’s film, The Similars, presents oddities, gore and general outlandishness in a world that appears to be embedded in reality, but isn’t. When eight characters in a remote bus station begin experiencing bizarre transformations that are linked to the tumultuous weather, they realize they are in a world far from their own.

The film draws from '50s horror/sci-fi tropes playing on the mutant monster madness stemming from paranoia regarding a changing world. As an alien force begins to mask the characters’ identities in a strange and frightening way the parallels between life, death and societal conformity become apparent.

The Similars (Los Parecidos) (2015)

Winter’s film Tristes Deserts - a Robot’s Tale, inspired by the song "Tristes Deserts" by baroque composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier, draws on a similar theme of man vs. world. Electronic sounds blended with the original baroque score are accompanied by high art visuals of a white, circus-inspired, futuristic robot afloat in another galaxy. The film explores the experimental relationship between man and technology.

Altogether this year’s Winter Film Awards Indie Film Festival managed to meet its goals of encompassing diversity not only in terms of its filmmakers, but also in the unusual contexts surrounding its fictional characters.

The Winter Film Awards Indie Film Festival runs until 26 February. Tickets are available at winterfilmawards.com

Genelle Levy is a freelance journalist, contributing writer and cultural critic. Her work has appeared in Canadian Media Guild, Syracuse New Times, Green Room Reviews, syracuse.com and Newshouse.

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