If you screen for a film festival long enough, you can play "name that film school" with the rest of us. USC students almost always do Sci-Fi. FSU will usually have something with kids. UNCSA, one of my alma maters, doesn't submit enough but I always know them for the brick colonial locations and southern accents somewhere in the cast.
Of all the film schools, the easiest to spot by far is AFI. If a movie looks "important," chances are, it's AFI. If it's about slavery, the holocaust, something Russian, or any of the other well-worn tales of man's inhumanity to man, it's AFI. Foreign language? AFI. A feeling that the actors know what a deep and meaningful film they are a part of means it's AFI.
Except for that last point, there's nothing wrong with any of this. It's only a bad thing if the movie isn't any good. We've had movies from all of these schools in the festival, and we've passed on movies from all of them, too, so there's no prejudice.
Long ago on this blog, I threw down a challenge to AFI students. Make a comedy, please! Sure, it'll come out like Life Is Beautiful, but that's fine. It can be an "important" comedy. Mel Brooks has done more to fight Nazis by making them clowns than any other filmmaker, except maybe Chaplin. So AFI, lighten up!
I'm having some fun with this, obviously. We only tease the ones we love, but there is a real teachable point here. I call it the 180 degree rule.
If you are making a tragedy, look for the humor. If you're making a comedy, look for the pathos. This will keep the audience from getting the feeling they are being preached to in a drama, or that you're a frivolous comedian.
If you're on the set of a drama, and everyone is self-absorbed in the message of the film, for God's sake, make a joke! Loosen everyone up. Suggest to an actor that they find a place in the scene to smile, because that's what humans do.
If the story is about a buffoon, make sure we get a little hint of his or her heart. Show us the buffoon in ourselves.
That's it for this week. Thanks for reading. We'll keep watching.