Student film attracts festival attention

by Gavin Wilson
Staff writer

A photo of two young men embracing, a funeral announcement, a painting -- these are the images that begin the student-produced short film From the Ashes.

About AIDS, grief and loss, From the Ashes is a first film by student Kevin Cottam, but one that's catching the attention of film festival programmers from Halifax to Tokyo.

Peggy Thompson, a professor in the Dept. of Film, Theatre and Creative Writing, credits Cottam's background in modern dance and especially as a figure skating choreographer for From the Ashes' accomplished visual style.

Cottam has worked with some of the biggest names in the ice-skating world, including Kurt Browning and Kristi Yamaguchi, and is currently revamping a large ice show in Europe.

The film's story is told with few words. Instead, images, situation, music and dance are used to describe how a young concert pianist (played by Stephen T. Yorke, a doctoral student in the School of Music) has given up on life since the death of his lover.

Fluid camera work, a lush set that features paintings by Joe Average and Mandy Williams, and a film within a film of dancer Alvin Tolentino combine to create what Thompson calls a "visually stunning" effect.

"I'm so used to working with movement that for me the camera has to have movement as well," Cottam says.

While the visuals came naturally, he admits that his screenwriting needed work, and he's grateful for the help Thompson and his fellow students gave as they critiqued his script.

"It's been brilliant. Peggy really pushes us to work within a structure, but in a way that is as creative as possible," he says.

Cottam also credits the department with helping to get the connections and resources needed to make the film, which was produced with the assistance of Cineworks, an independent filmmaking cooperative in Vancouver.

From the Ashes was the opening short for The Hanging Garden at the Atlantic Film Festival and has been seen at festivals in Ottawa, Barcelona and Madrid. It will also be screened later this year at gay and lesbian film festivals in Tokyo, Melbourne and Torino, Italy.

Watch for it on the Knowledge Network program The Independent Eye on March 16 at 10 p.m., and March 18 at 11 p.m.