‘Libris Mortis’ wins top award at Greensboro 48 Hour Film Project

Eric Trundy (L), title character of "There Goes Eric," poses with Brian Dowton and his daughter Savannah Dowton, both actors in "The Golden Man-Child."

For a stylish film awards ceremony complete with red carpet and flashbulb photography, the Best of Greensboro 48 Hour Film Project awards on July 22 felt remarkably down to earth. But event organizer Iris Carter’s statement that this year’s winner was only “two steps from Cannes” belied the evening’s unassuming air.

The recipient of the “Best of Greensboro” accolade will compete against nearly 140 other films from 48-Hour Film Project city winners worldwide. From there, about a dozen overall winners will screen at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival.

Given this chance for international recognition, a palpable charge of significance shot through the audience as the 11 judge and audience chosen films — narrowed down from 34 original entries — began to roll at the Carolina Theatre last week.

Despite audience seating in the classic faux-gilded proscenium space, the 11 films’ themes and dialogue skewed toward intimacy — from the ironies of daily life in the musical “There Goes Eric” to father-daughter interpersonal strife in drama “Found.” Heavy summer mise en scene and local neighborhood settings enhanced the films’ quotidian charms.

Each year, teams from Greensboro compete by creating short films — four to seven minutes — in the span of just 48 hours. From script to special effects, all aspects of a team’s movie remain undecided until the competition’s start, save for some initial location scouting and three universal elements that the Film Project rules require every film to display. This year’s required elements included the character of “Lyle or Leslie Sherman, interpreter,” the line “Mom hates her” and the appearance of a dog toy as prop. Teams also draw a film genre at random during the kickoff.

Throughout the hour-long screening, the 11 teams demonstrated their ingenuity by weaving the above requirements into their own unique compositions.

“Downward Dog,” an audience favorite produced by Layla Films, brought a delightfully quirky angle with its uproarious yet macabre take on the psychological maladies of a chihuahua, Rosie, who suffers from “extreme existential issues.” True to its assigned dark comedy genre, “Downward Dog” concludes with Rosie’s all-too-expected suicide. Its unceremonious exploration of familiar yet meaningful issues such as bullying, depression, domestic strife and uncertain identity resonated with striking tenderness, relevance and clarity.

Other films balance humor with hyperbole and reflection equally well. “Last Call” imagines the earth’s supposed last days through the eyes of a young man entrenched in the cult of Reprobate Lord Vilquerag, and offered commentary on the myopia of apocalyptic fears. Qlab Creative’s “Whiskey Sour” presented a No Exit-esque bar-as- purgatory scene, where patrons become trapped after death. The articulate characterization and meditations on attachment rendered the film as private and revealing as conversing with a favorite bartender.

“Libris Mortis,” a horror short by filmmaking team 5 Million Galaxies, took home the evening’s top honors. In accordance with their horror genre assignment, “Libris Mortis” concocted a chilling — if sometimes overstated — scenario surrounding their version of Leslie Sherman, a translator of ancient languages. The film employs an epistolary plot device, whereby Sherman’s character voices her own letter to a prominent anthropologist concerning the 3,500-year-old “Egyptian Book of the Dead.”

While reading aloud from the book’s fragments, Sherman reminisces about her mother and the nature of death from a library in her rural farmhouse. As her perusal waxes toward obsession, a female ghost appears three times. Sherman discovers too late that incantations from the Book of the Dead can call up the chimera of a loved one — as well as deliver her to an untimely passing. The film supplies a terrifying fiery fissure as a representation of her crossing over. After Sherman confronts that screaming void, the film leaves the audience with an image of her motionless corpse cast in silence — a warning against edging too close to infinity.

In the eyes of Carter, producer of the Greensboro 48 Hour Film Project, it’s that very propensity to brush with glory that fills her with pride in local filmmakers’ talent. Since the 48-Hour Film Project came to town in 2004, she said, two local films have made it to Cannes, including last year’s Greensboro winner “Gotta Go” by production crew the Magic Shop, a film about a bathroom in which the middle urinal contains a wormhole.

This year’s winning group, 5 Million Galaxies, consists of a husband-and- wife team, a mother-daughter duo, and a friend. Stephen Van Vuuren wrote and directed “Libris Mortis,” while his wife Marie Stone Van Vuuren lent her talents as art director and producer. Actor Sheila Duell played “Leslie Sherman, interpreter” with subtle flair, while actor Sarah Strable played the film’s ethereal ghost. Strable’s daughter, Jade Maturino, also provided the end-of- film scream.

[Disclosure: Maturino is the daughter of TCB Art Director Jorge Maturino.]

Each of 5 Million Galaxies’ members expressed their shock and delight at “Libris Mortis” taking home first prize. And rightly so, considering they’re on a path that might end at Cannes.

  • AJ Schraeder

    One of the photos has the wrong caption it says A.J. Schraeder was the actor in last call when it’s actually Nick Dobson.

    • Dave Dobson

      And there goes Nick’s chance at eternal fame.

      • Jesse Morales

        Sincere apologies to Nick Dobson for my mistake. The web version now reflects his correct identity, and an apology and correction will be published in next week’s issue of Triad City Beat. Reprobate Lord Vilqerag’s revenge or intern error? Definitely the latter. Sorry again to Nick and AJ. – Jesse Morales, Editorial Intern