Even if the Brouhaha Film & Video Showcase hadn't switched this year to an all-student-film format, its highest-profile entry might still be Greg Jardin's The Problem With Fiber Optics, a charming, technically accomplished short that's been selected to close out the afternoon. Brouhaha has always been about recognizing the finest in Florida moviemaking, and Jardin's short one of several supplied by the consistently capable Florida State University film school stands with the best that have come out of the Sunshine State, whether they were assembled in or out of the classroom.
Balancing an early-'60s style of art direction with state-of-the-art special effects, Jardin spins a sci-fi satire in which a well-meaning nebbish gets a "memory implant" to boost his confidence with women. Through the miracle of modern science, our hero discards one of his least favorite recollections and replaces it with another, more ego- edifying memory discarded by an unknown donor. Then again, everybody's idea of a "happy" memory is wholly subjective which is why he's suddenly cursed with a mental image of sleeping with his own mother.
For the 28-year-old Jardin, this incursion on the territory of Freud and Gondry was more than a chance to complete his graduate thesis. "I really wanted to do a film like `the ones` I like to see," he says. "Something fun and fast-paced." Keeping the results "offbeat" and set in a "hyperreality" was important to Jardin, an accomplished graphic designer and photographer who took his visual cues from vintage vacuum-cleaner ads and other Cold War artifacts. The memory machinery and other such inventions are "big, metallic and boxy," he proudly points out.
The stab at period flavor, Jardin says, made the project slightly more expensive than the usual student film. But although nearly every other shot seems to have enjoyed some extensive postproduction tweaking furniture falling unceremoniously into outdoor tableaux and the like most of the effects aren't as complicated or costly as they look.
"One fortunate thing about FSU is that, this year, they have a gentleman by the name of Stuart Robertson as an instructor," Jardin says. "He was a big visual-effects guy in Hollywood. He `worked` on tons of effects-heavy movies, such as What Dreams May Come and Terminator 2. He's able to sort of supervise all the thesis films and let you know what's realistically possible; what's pragmatic, what you can and can't achieve at a student level."
Though the film plays like a retro homage to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Jardin surprisingly downplays the connection, claiming to have been more influenced by films like Pillow Talk and Forbidden Planet, as well as TV's ubiquitous The Twilight Zone. He may be covering his tracks unnecessarily there's nothing wrong with swiping from good sources while you're still learning though the appearance of distance will be essential if he goes through with his plan of shooting a feature-length version of Problem as his next project.
The big time could use a filmmaker like Jardin, whose movie displays an openheartedness that plenty of student flicks (and most studio offerings) lack. His hero looks past blond bombshells to moon after a wheezing-but-goodhearted fellow nerd, and even the potentially ooky Oedipal plotline comes off as fun provocation, rather than sicko obsession. Just don't try to read too much into the factoid that Jardin's own mother passed away when he was quite young; as far as he's concerned, Problem should not be read as the most troubling "I remember mama" letter in FSU history.
"My initial idea was that he gets a memory of having sex, but it's a memory from another woman," he explains. "So it's basically having some sort of lesbian encounter. But I thought that was kind of complicated. And then I thought, 'What's more horrific than having sex with your own mother?'"
Brouhaha Film & Video Showcase
Noon and 2:30 p.m. Saturday