Joyal prize winning films appeal to many tastes

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Harrington School honors student filmmakers

KINGSTON, R.I. – June 7, 2012 – Food, fun, love, life, death and murder. They’re all a part of the human experience and all were captured with creativity and technical prowess in films directed and produced by the winners of the University of Rhode Island’s Fred Joyal Film Prizes.

Three students – Kyle King, Michael Higginbotham and Matt DiGennaro – received the $1,000 award from the Harrington School of Communication and Media for their short films and Alex Allaux earned honorable mention. All four will also receive passes to the Rhode Island International Film Festival in August.

The videos can be viewed at

The films are judged based on how each one communicates an idea, theme or feeling; technical proficiency; creativity and the extent to which the projects demonstrate the creators’ promise as a director, producer or artist.

Judges Dan Riordan, owner of Gnarly Bay Productions in Westerly, and John Peterson, founder of ImmersionStudio in Wakefield, said this year’s entries represented the best group they have judged and Tom Zorabedian, assistant dean in the College of Arts and Sciences and a film professor, agreed.

“The films are a leap forward, even from last year,” Zorabedian said.

Living life to the fullest

King, an East Providence resident who completed his movie Live It Up before he began serving his third deployment to Afghanistan with the U.S. Air Force, took the deeply personal subject of his grandfather’s fading health and memory as he suffers from Alzheimer’s and envisions a new end to his life.

“It put a lot of pressure on me because it is about my grandfather and I wanted to make it perfect,” King said via email from Afghanistan. “It’s far from perfect. I didn’t make the film exactly how I hoped it would be, but I’m satisfied with the way it came out, and I think it’s the best short project that I’ve made yet.”

King’s film depicts his grandfather wasting away in a nursing home, itching to get out and experience the world once more. Grandpa makes a daring early-evening escape from the nursing home to spend the night drinking cold beer around the fire with his grandson and his friends before watching the sunrise over the Atlantic.

“It’s supposed to be about him having control over his life instead of waiting to die lonely in a nursing home,” said King, who received the award for the second consecutive year.

King achieved a natural dialogue by allowing the actors to improvise their scenes around the fire, and he was impressed with his hardy 74-year-old actor, Harold Ashton, who endured early mornings and long days of filming in a nursing home to bring King’s grandfather to life.

“I think I was surprised at just how easy it was for him to act like my grandfather,” King said. “At times he would say a line and nailed it perfectly the way my grandfather would say it.”

While Grandpa took control of his own life in “Live It Up,” Higginbotham’s film, Smoke, depicts an unnamed character’s violent death.

Angst permeates Smoke

Smoke opens with two men beginning an ambiguous conversation in a waiting room. There is a flashback to a brutal murder.

One character is full of angst, while the other remains perfectly calm. The contrast between the two characters builds a quiet tension as the movie builds to its murky ending.

“I wanted to make it like a modern art cinema film that allows the viewer to interpret it how they want,” Higginbotham, a Cranston resident, said. “There are clues throughout the film as to what it would mean, but it’s ultimately up to the viewer.”

Higginbotham, who cites directors Quentin Tarantino, David Fincher, Steven Spielberg and Alfred Hitchcock among his influences, said he wanted the audience to feel the film, not just view it, and using only subtle music helped him achieve that.

“The eeriness of the quiet allows you to focus on the conversation,” he said. “It makes you feel uncomfortable along with the characters.”

Higginbotham left the end of his movie open to interpretation, while DiGennaro showed the end of his heart-rending tale in the opening of frames of This is a Love Story.

Tis better to have loved and lost?

DiGennaro, of Cranston, takes a unique approach to summer love in This is a Love Story, weaving the visual tale of a young couple’s breakup before the woman leaves for college from its conclusion to its beginning, while the voiceover describes the youthful entanglement from start to finish.

“The film really came out of conversations I had with the girl who the film was about,” said DiGennaro, who also starred in the movie. “We wondered if it’s easier or harder growing young. It’s kind of the same with a relationship. Is it easier to have never met at all?”

Questioning the theme of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s assertion that “tis better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all,” DiGennaro paces the visual narrative against the audio narrative until they meet in the middle for a moment of perfect happiness.

The project was the product of his experience and one of his favorite books, “Only Revolutions,” which appears in the movie. It helped influence him on how to recreate the deeply personal tale. He said he enjoys films with an emotional attachment for the audience and set out to create one himself.

“I was able to recreate something that was very dear to me that doesn’t exist anymore,” DiGennaro said. “(The film) is the only place it exists now.”

A twist of fate

Allaux’s project, Chef’s Dream, takes a more lighthearted approach to fate, depicting a failing chef who spends his nights crafting the perfect dish.

Allaux’s first foray into film, the short project is a clever send-up of his own experiences. The Jamestown resident has spent time working in restaurants and credits his father, who is French-Morroccan and stars as the film’s protagonist, with instilling in him a love of cuisine.

One of the biggest challenges the sophomore faced was creating a dish that looked good, and then getting his father to choke it down.

“The first meal shown in the film tasted good,” Allaux said, noting it didn’t receive much screen time and was depicted as an awful meal that was sent back by a customer, played by Allaux himself. “The second dish looked good, but it didn’t taste so good.

“In terms of cuisine it’s about presentation, so we had to make a very nice platter that looked good, but then it was put in the freezer for a week or two and it would come back out when it was time to shoot and my father would have to try to eat it.”

Fred Joyal, a 1979 URI alumnus, originally from Coventry, is based in Los Angeles, where he is co-founder and vice-chairman of 1-800-DENTIST.

This is the 13th consecutive year Joyal has funded student prizes, an idea that emerged from a conversation between Joyal and Zorabedian when they met in 1997.

Pictured above

From left, Matt DiGennaro, Michael Higginbotham and Alex Allaux are among the honorees of the 2012 Fred Joyal Film Prize, awarded by the University of Rhode Island’s Harrington School of Communication and Media. DiGennaro and Higginbotham were winners, while Allaux earned honorable mention. Photo courtesy of Thomas Zorabedian/URI Assistant Dean of Arts and Sciences

Kyle King, director of the short film “Live It Up,” is among three winners of the 2012 Fred Joyal Film Prize, awarded by the University of Rhode Island’s Harrington School of Communication and Media. Photo courtesy of Kyle King