So many people dream of being an artist of one form or another… until they attempt doing their craft. The creative process is a fraught endurance test full of anxiety and self-doubt that quickly alienates many people from their artistic aspirations.
Before Ira Glass’ quotation about needing a few years to fully realize your talent and potential went viral a few months ago, Chris Esper used it as the foundation for his short film entitled Still Life.
Many films that deal with the creative process have a tendency to be an uneasy cacophony of long-winded ideas, wringing “profoundness” and “symbolism” out of every action, every line of dialogue, every image.
On the other hand, Esper’s direction and screenplay take a refreshingly unpretentious and lucid approach to the story of Martin (Timothy Bonavita), a young photography student frustrated by the difficult creative procedure of moving beyond competent, albeit “flat” work. Still Life chronicles his journey in a brisk 12 minutes.
The film’s chief asset is its innate sense of authenticity. Esper, who is not yet 25, has already made over twenty shorts in the last couple of years. His short film captures the essence of somebody who has experienced failure and disappointment and who is still fine tuning his craft.
The best scenes are the quiet and contemplative ones. My favorite sequence was the one when he’s walking down Westminster Street, one of the hippest and artsiest neighborhoods in downtown Providence, trying to envision the next great photo.
The juxtaposition of the still snapshots by Amanda Devonis compellingly visualizes of the many dodgy ideas we all have before we do something good. I particularly appreciated the photo of the brightly yellow tinted teddy bear in gloomy black and white room for its surreal corniness. Bonavita’s facial expressions perfectly register the dismay of his character.
Mark Phillips’ low-contrast and flat black and white cinematography is totally apropos, representing Martin’s creative funk. One particularly good set is his bedroom which has an impersonal, almost clinical dorm look with nothing more than a prison-like twin bed. This also reinforces the idea of “photographer’s block.”
Still Life, which has been on the festival circuit for over a year now, has racked up many prizes (and is still going strong). When I saw this film the first time at a public screening, many people, from all walks of life gravitated to it for its relatability. I look forward to Esper’s future films.