“Shotgun” (dir. Miguel de Laveaga). Photo by Naava Guaraca.
52 Films Live: Take One
I’m reminded that a movie can be almost anything, and I feel like all the filmmakers are old friends.
By NAAVA GUARACA
I walk into the first 52 Films Live as someone is performing stand-up comedy to a crowd that laughs along nervously. We’re in the back room at Freddy’s in South Slope, a bar resplendent with overhanging Tiffany lamps and gauche decor. But the back room has a different vibe to it—I feel like I’m in my high school’s black box theater, anticipating an amateur production made by my friends. There are art pieces and a huge mirror hanging precariously on the wall. Standing at the back of the room, I’m surrounded by homemade flyers advertising upcoming comedy shows and open mic nights.
The space is small but full, everyone crowding in to sit. There are some old church pews and benches to accompany a handful of tables and chairs. As the comedian finishes his set, he says we better get started. We’re all eager to watch some movies.
52 Films, founded by Allamaprabhu Pattanashetty, Robert Gordon, and Adrian Mikulak, kicked off in January 2022 with a collective of filmmakers committed to releasing one film every week for the duration of the year. Each filmmaker is given a release date, and the rest is up to them—they can make whatever they’d like, with no genre limitations or requirements other than to provide a finished film by the deadline. Fellow COPY writer Natalie Duerr interviewed the founders at the project’s apex. With 104 films released to date, 52 Films is now in their third year. They hope to host 52 Films Live once a month to showcase the latest films, bringing these films away from the privacy of at-home perception.
Tonight’s lineup consists of December 2023’s five films, shown in order from the beginning of the month through the end. I know very little about what I’m about to watch.
We kick off with “Source Material,” a one-minute-long film submitted anonymously. In it, we’re confronted with a single shot of an ancient copy of Frankenstein, a radio recording that sounds straight out of the 1800s, and a monotone reading of an excerpt. It’s eerie and weird, leaving us on edge right from the get-go. The second film is Shalemar Coloma’s “Scales,” which feels like a personal essay. Coloma narrates the entire thing, taking us through old photos of her and her family from when she was a kid growing up in Virginia. The film feels intimate and warm; she shows us suburban fall scenery and then takes us around Busch Gardens as she rides the amusement park rides of her childhood. It’s a meditation on childhood and growing up, wondering about your ancestry, and having a heart that sometimes feels too big for this world.
After “Scales” nearly brings us to tears, Robert Gordon reaches over and turns the volume up as we launch into the third film, “Shotgun,” directed by Miguel de Laveaga. “Shotgun” is Miguel’s fourth film for 52 Films—he’s been part of the collective since it began, releasing three pieces with them in 2022. In this film, he and a close friend drive across America. We watch as the scenery shifts from Midwest greens to desert browns and purples, soundtracked by Anthony Kenzo Salazar’s emotional piano tunes. As the film ends, everyone is leaning forward slightly, enraptured.
Watching “Scales” and “Shotgun” back to back feels like a crash course in nostalgia; we’re all ready for a change of pace, and luckily enough, the fourth film is “A GIRLFRIEND FOR CHRISTMAS (Official Trailer)” by Magnus Sundberg. It takes the format of a trailer for a feature film about a boy who decides to ask Santa for a girlfriend for Christmas. The next four minutes are a wild ride, quickly paced and hilarious. Everyone is in stitches by the end. Spoiler alert: imagining Mrs. Claus getting shot has never been on any of my bingo boards, but alas. The fifth and final film is “Le Temps Perdu” by Julian Santos, which hits us with another vibe change. Shot in a cinematic wide format, it’s the closest thing we’ve seen to a classic narrative short film tonight. It’s a short and sweet boy-meets-girl story that reminds me of Before Sunrise.
I’m struck specifically by the accidental-ness of all these short films coming out back to back, pressed up against one another within the same project. This variety in both genre and theme is what I love about 52 Films: the project is a burgeoning display of what this newly adult generation of filmmakers intends to make and witness. Everyone responds to similar queries—growing up, working through grief, and looking for love—in different ways. We’re at a moment in history that feels increasingly tumultuous, and these young artists are just beginning the practice of processing all this conflict.
As we close out the evening, Gordon takes the mic and thanks us all for coming. He tells us to “please come back, please hang out, please stay.” The bar turned on the heat around halfway through our viewing experience, and he jokingly thanks them for doing so, though we’re all sweating in a way that feels very unfunny. The screening was less than an hour of watching films, but I feel closer to my peers than I did when I first walked in. I’m reminded that a movie can be almost anything, and I feel like all the filmmakers are old friends. Finding new independently made films to fawn over feels more accessible than ever.
You can watch a new film every Saturday via 52films.org.
The second iteration of 52 Films Live will happen February 6—you can RSVP to attend here.