Two weeks ago, the fourth annual Princeton Independent Film Festival (“Prindie” for short) took place across four nights, screening over twenty films in the Hopewell Theater, Princeton Garden Theater, and McCosh 50. The films were narrative and documentary, short and feature-length, realistic and stylized, and all carefully curated to represent a varied collection of exciting new artistic voices. I interviewed Alex Kim ‘21, a judge for the festival, and Myrsini Aristidou, a director whose short film, Aria was screened at the Garden on the festival’s second night, along with Alvaro Gago’s Matria and Sophie Dros’s Genderbende.
Curiously, the two narrative shorts, Aria and Matria, felt more realistic in style than the documentary Genderbende. The shorts use immersive sound designs, natural angles, and tight camerawork to follow their protagonists through spaces that feel lively and tangible. Meanwhile, the documentary frames its subjects — gender non-conforming youths in the Netherlands — in wide, ornate compositions. They face the camera directly to share their moving stories, and there is even a recurring segment where they face a pane of glass and attempt to draw a gender spectrum and label themselves on it; the effect is that they appear to be drawing directly on the screen of the movie theater.
But despite the stylistic similarities between her film and Gago’s, Myrsini Aristidou doesn’t see herself as part of a movement. She has influences, among them the Italian neorealists and the contemporary director Jacques Audiard, but her reason for making realistic movies is simply that she likes realism. For her, it’s less about carrying forward a movement or ideology, and more about making the kinds of movies she enjoys most.
“Movies are made to be seen in the cinema,” Myrsini told me. She likes seeing her film screened at festivals like Prindie, where she can interact with her audiences and see how they interpret her work. Part of her process of creating a film is letting it go once it’s done, understanding that she can’t influence how audiences receive the film when it enters the domain of public discourse. And sometimes the audience’s reactions to Aria are even more insightful than she’d hoped; they pick up on things she hadn’t expected — or even intended — for them to pick up on.
Along with her enthusiasm for the film festival as a space of big-screen viewing, Myrsini is excited about the widespread dispersion of small-screen image sharing technologies like smartphones and Instagram. If it gives people the opportunity to express themselves and work creatively, she’s in favor of it. And she admires directors like Sean Baker and Steven Soderbergh, who have shot feature films on their iPhones. A filmmaker’s choice of camera is like a painter’s choice of paint, she told me. Some work with oil paints, others with acrylics, and she believes that the decision depends on both artistic vision and financial constraints.
Still, being a filmmaker is about more than just having a phone that can record videos. It’s a life decision, she said, and “whether we had smartphones or not, it would have been the same decision.” Aria was shot digitally, but Myrsini wishes she could have shot it on celluloid. Color correction, she explains, may be able to imitate the soft shadows of film stock, but it can’t imitate the urgency that comes from shooting with a limited number of takes. “There’s a magic to shooting on film,” she said. “You have to make decisions. You cannot just keep rolling and rolling and rolling.”
Alex Kim also loves celluloid. It’s one of the things he specifically looks for in his work as a judge for Prindie, an attitude reflective of the wider preferences of the festival (filmmakers who shoot on celluloid pay a lower submission fee). Alex started out as a graphics and social media intern for Prindie, designing the website and other press materials before being promoted to judge.
In addition to the festival’s general thematic preferences – this year, they sought out films related, in some way, to the environment — Alex is partial to submissions that take full advantage of the medium of film. “It’s not just story plus images,” he said. “It’s so much more than that.” He believes in the power of editing to combine images in surprising ways, creating something greater than the sum of its parts, and he’s confident that this year’s selection of films exhibits that power in full.
One of the things Alex appreciates about the viewing environment of a smaller festival like Prindie is the freedom they have in choosing their programming, compared to what the Garden can get away with showing on an ordinary night. He recalls a conversation with the management of the Garden Theater, in which they explained that when they screened Yorgos Lanthimos’ violent and provocative satire The Lobster, many patrons walked out and requested refunds. At a film festival, audiences expectations are different. “You come there because you know you love movies,” he said. “You’re looking to be surprised.”