An Evening of Film: Fordham Alumni Company's CANNED ART Festival

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I never go to the movies.

Perhaps it’s because of the sticker shock every time I see the ticket price.

It might be because New York City movie theaters have a reputation for bedbug infestation and I, like so many New Yorkers, have a deathly fear of bedbugs.

Or maybe I never go to the movies because I’d rather watch a film.

A night at the movies feels mostly like a chance to buy over-salted popcorn and gaze at a two-hour picture that moves, but only in the most literal sense of the term. What we see up on the silver screen is largely forgettable, and once is often more than enough for whatever you’ve shelled out thirteen dollars to watch. On the other hand, an evening of film is an opportunity to be inspired, excited, and informed by vivid, artful storytelling. I suppose I can best distinguish the two by their respective effects—films nourish me; movies only gratify.

And so I was more than happy to be a guest at the Fordham Alumni Company’s first annual CANNED ART Festival —film screenings presented from August 9th through 11th at the Wild Project on New York City’s Lower East Side.  The festival showcased a variety of feature length and short films, documentaries, web-series, and sketches created by Fordham Alumni.

The Fordham Alumni Company is a relatively new operation, having presented work under the name Fordham Alumni Theater Company for the last six summers. This year, with the aim of “galvanizing Fordham University’s place in the New York Arts Scene” the Company took on a new name and a new direction. Now known as the Fordham Alumni Company, the organization functions as a university-wide arts hub that brings together multiple generations of Fordham alumni across all artistic disciplines. I had the pleasure of viewing three short films screened on night two of the festival, each one uniquely engaging and thought provoking.

The first film, Dear Santa, told the story of Ann Dunham, an energetic and free-spirited girl who loves hockey, dance class, and video games—and wants Santa Claus to turn her into a boy for Christmas. Ann’s conservative mother’s frenzied reaction to the request results in a twenty-minute glimpse at the complicated, funny, and often dysfunctional nature of family bonds. Written and directed by Fordham Alum Maura Smith and featuring Fordham Alum Kelley Curran in the role of Ann’s mother, Dear Santa led me to reflect on certain complexities of modern-day childhood I had not yet considered.

Next was Walking Merchandise. Directed by Ethan Downing, produced by Fordham Alum Robert Nguyen, and executive produced by Michael Nguyen, the film is a polished and compelling documentary that tells the stories of middle-school-aged, Chinese children trafficked to the United States by “snakeheads”—smugglers who charge fees as high as $100,000 to transport them.  The children’s journeys are fraught with danger—most suffer physical harm, many experience sexual assault, and some succumb to death by illness or even murder. When they reach their destinations, hazardous conditions persist. Most live as indentured servants forced to work in dangerous conditions for low pay to settle their exorbitant debts to the snakeheads. The film’s content is horrifying and that is precisely why I am so glad the film was made. I strongly encourage others to view Walking Merchandise for free, learn more about the film, and see how they might help.

Last up in this series of shorts was Ostrander, directed by Tim Chaffee, written by Ian McWethy, and produced by Sue Kimeaturing (all Fordham alumni). Josh LaCasse, also a graduate of Fordham, takes on the role of Ostrander, a high-profile theater critic known for his harsh pen and unsociable personality. Ostrander attends Anne Hathaway’s new one-woman show and, unexpectedly, loves it. In fact, Ms. Hathaway’s performance has such a profound impact on Ostrander that he dedicates himself to a new endeavor— writing a screenplay for Ms. Hathaway, pitching it to her in a personal meeting, and wowing her with his creation. Ostrander was funny, bittersweet, and a little absurd— “Portlandia” meets The Grinch.

There were no dance films in the festival lineup. This omission was a disappointment and a surprise, since Fordham graduates— Slaveya Starkov and Lara Wilson come to mind—have made and are presently making dance films. And, always, I would have loved to have seen a larger, enthusiastic audience, whether in the seats of The Wild Project or logged in to a live stream on the Internet. Still, Fordham Alumni Company’s first annual CANNED ART Festival was an uplifting and enlightening experience overall. I left nourished, having learned some stories and laughed at others by enjoying a lovely evening of film.

To learn more about the Fordham Alumni Company and see what they are making moves toward next, check them out on Facebook.

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