Canisius grads head to Cannes Film Festival: Buffalo team, Partially Submerged Elephants, wins awards at 48 Hour Film Project

By Adam Duke

Copy Editor

The 48 Hour Film Project is an annual competition that began in 2001, with over 30,000 short films made to date. The goal of the project is to promote filmmakers through its competition. Each team gets 48 hours to develop a short film. This includes writing, obtaining a location to film, filming, and editing.

This past year, a team of 12 people worked together on a submission for the project under the team name “Partially Submerged Elephants.” The team grew from a smaller 2016 team. Three teammates from this year’s project were Canisius grads: Tori Claflin ‘14, former Griffin editor CJ Gates ‘16, and Ben Woody ‘16, M.S. all helped to develop the short film Ride of Your Life for the 2017 48 Hour Film Project.

“We did it the year before and a few of us videographers at PSE wanted to do it again this next year because it was a blast the first year around, so there’s like three or four of us that shoot together and work together and we started recruiting people,” said Woody. “Everyone who had a blast the year before came back and then we brought on a few new people from other teams, from previous 48s wanted to come work with us as well.”

The challenge of the project is having to create a film with minimal funding.  “A bunch of filmmakers just get together and they have no real funds to make a piece of art happen and it’s sort of like the magic behind all of it,” said Claflin. “When you’re working under that pressure, you can come up with these amazing results.”

On the first day of the competition, each team draws a genre out of a hat. A character name, a prop, and a line of dialogue are all given to ensure nobody filmed their project beforehand. This year, Partially Submerged Elephants drew the genre of drama or fable. Each team had to include the character Lloyd or Laurie Tantallon in their film along with an extension cord and the line, “Who said that?”

Canisius alumnus Jordan Lema ‘05, CEO of Lemur Studios, is the director for the Buffalo branch of the program, with 2017 being his first year in charge.

“I competed in this for 10 years prior, so it became a big part of my life. It’s just the same kind of thing where you did it and you found it to be somewhat addicting, or you wanted to do it again. I kept on wanting that over and over again and then the opportunity came to run it and I thought, ‘Well this is a perfect time to do that,’” he said. “When I took it over, it wasn’t the cleanest handoff imaginable, so I didn’t really have any materials or anything. I had to figure out how to do it, and we did a great job, but we didn’t have any supporters financially. So this year will be a different story.”

Lema said that he is trying to develop the project to draw interest throughout the year, creating a ‘meet the filmmakers’ show with interviews. He added that it’s a bigger endeavor in Buffalo now than it has ever been and because of this, he is reaching out to bigger sponsors to do more things. He said that taking over, it was pretty much what he expected. He mentioned that this year, he took on a lot himself and has learned to delegate for the coming years.

He agreed with Claflin’s sentiment that the forced creativity, no preconceived plotlines, and no budget aspect creates an equalizer for all teams, whether it be a team of professionals or a team of a dad and his high school kids, as both created films that finished in the top four.

Locally, Partially Submerged Elephants won Best Film of 2017, Audience Favorite: Group B, Best Editing, Best Acting, and Best Effects over 21 other films. Some members of Partially Submerged Elephants traveled to Paris, France for Filmapalooza 2018, where they won Best Cinematography, competing against films from over 90 other cities worldwide.

“One of the reasons it ended up being a really successful film was because the first year we did it with Period Piece, everyone tried to chip in everywhere,” said Woody. “It was fun and everyone learned, but this year we decided, ‘Okay, let’s treat this like a film project.’ We picked who’s going to be the director way ahead of time, who’s the strongest director, who’s the strongest shooter, who’s the strongest editor and having those decided ahead of time really helped us be successful.”

Working to their strengths aided Partially Submerged Elephants. The team sent their actors, actresses, and editors to bed the first night, as the writers, director, and producer stayed up creating the story.

Lema said that Ride of Your Life, in general, stood out and that it was the clear winner. “Look how well it did on the international level; it soars,” he said. “The combination of the talent that is the team combined with the beautiful character of the ride, combined with the beautiful character of the song, too. It’s magic. All of it together, it’s just a beautiful, exceptional piece.”

He added that one thing that can be tough about a music-driven piece is acting with facial expressions and motion, but said that the film was powerful regardless.

Claflin said that a lot relied on serendipity, and that the team changed the location from the Erie County Fair to Fantasy Island and back and any mishap could’ve changed the success of the film. Woody even commented that there was talk of building the ride in the film out of PVC pipe. Claflin credited Buffalo as the City of Good Neighbors, as opportunities exist here, that may not in bigger cities like New York City or Los Angeles.

“If there’s people out there who are discouraged by seeing something at this level be so good, and be like, ‘Oh, I can’t compete with that.’ One wrong decision and it’s a whole different thing,” said Lema.

“Just look at the entrees from this past year. Because you had everything from a team like ours, with like 12 people who work in this field professionally, and then you had parents and kids working on it together, there really are no limits; anyone can participate,” said Gates. “You don’t have to have studied film for four years and know the technical aspects of everything. You can just get together with your family and have a weekend of fun, or you can get together with some friends and have a weekend of fun, and create something creative and entertaining. It doesn’t have to win to be good, as long as you have fun during the process, then I think that’s what it’s all about.”

Lema said that though there is a focus on winning and that he always gunned for Best Cinematography when he competed, a lot is about personal growth and fun. It’s something that one can develop at and something each competitor can watch for the rest of his or her life.

“We just wanted to get together and make something cool. We weren’t doing it just to win,” said Woody. “I think that everybody, hopefully on all teams, but definitely on our team, learned a lot, made a bunch of friends, and had a great time.”

Partially Submerged Elephants now has the opportunity to travel to Cannes, France in May for the world’s most prestigious film festival, where Ride of Your Life will be screened. They have a GoFundMe set up to help the team travel to Cannes. Contributions can be made here.

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