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Student filmmaker keeps it low-tech

Ben Fout, who along with partner Stephen Piker earned last year's Rising Star Award, has three films in this year's Rocky Mountain Student Filmfest, which will be presented tonight and Saturday night at Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale. (Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen Times)
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Since receiving a video camera, a Christmas gift from his mother three years ago, Ben Fout has come a long way as a filmmaker. Last year, Fout, then 15, and his frequent artistic partner, Stephen Piker, earned the Rising Star Award at the Rocky Mountain Student Filmfest for “The Strange Side of Abraham Lincoln,” a silent, black-and-white experimental work that presented an offbeat look at the 16th president.This year, Fout has a trio of films in the Student Filmfest, which will be presented tonight and Saturday night at Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale. “Stop, Walk,” another collaboration with Piker, and the solo effort “Club Jazz” are part of tonight’s program. A second one-man project, “Flowers,” is on tomorrow’s program.But while Fout has become prolific and awarded, he has not advanced at all along the technological path. He still makes films with the VCR camera he started out on. He edits his film in-camera – meaning he shoots scenes, and if he doesn’t like what he sees, he rewinds and starts again, until he has a completed film. “I just press the red button twice – once on, once off,” he explained. The final editing is done not with a computer, but a VCR.Fout’s favored filmmaking style is similarly low-tech. “Club Jazz” and “Flowers” are paper animation, a technique that has Fout cutting designs – people, settings – out of construction paper, and then moving them for split-second sequences. (Think “South Park,” though the show was hardly an inspiration; the home-schooled Fout has never had a TV.) “It’s really choppy,” Fout said, and not as an apology. “The animation frames are a quarter-second, maybe one second. But it’s a cool effect. It’s a cheap way of doing it.”The low technology is paired with high concept in “Club Jazz,” which Fout made over four days by skipping breakfast and lunch. It is a charming, dialogue-free cityscape, set to Nat “King” Cole’s version of “Paper Moon” – and, in a subtle bit of humor, does, in fact, prominently feature a paper moon. The titles are especially clever.”If I ever did a music video, it would be like this,” said Fout, who plays piano and guitar – mostly blues and jazz – and is best-known in Aspen as Ben E. Busker, the talented street artist who performs regularly at the Aspen Saturday Market. “It’s kind of like a tour of a city, and into a jazz club, and you see the band play.””Flowers” uses the same method, but has more of a romantic theme. Set to a jazz tune by Piano Red, it tells the story of a man trying to get flowers for his wife.”Stop, Walk” uses live action to raise the question of whether the buttons pedestrians press to get a green traffic light really work.Fout has messed around some with the movie software Final Cut Pro, but for the moment he remains a low-tech guy. When he experiments outside of paper animation, it is usually with ink scribblings or Lego figures. The real goal for Fout, who presents his work under the Super Hero Films label, is to go to the classic tool of cinema.”I’d really love to get into film. But that’s a lot more expensive,” he said.

Three films to be screened in the Rocky Mountain Student Filmfest are viewable online, at http://www.mpowerpeople.org.”Anaesthetic,” a visually captivating film about the importance of art of all sorts, was made by Rachel Mueller, René Cousineau, Jesse Riley, Tony Westhoff and Senorina Jacobo. Brandon McDuffey’s animated “Labels” combines a humorous presentation with the serious message of the damage that terms like “jock” and “prep” can have. “Informal Wallop,” by Nicolas Scher, is a symphony of body noises.The festival features 35 films, selected from 49 submissions from students throughout the Roaring Fork Valley and from as far away as Granby and Steamboat Springs. The festival’s teacher sponsors are Kitty Riley and Bryan Koster, both of Basalt High School, and Alec Raffin, whose Mpower organization teaches media literacy in local high schools. Saturday’s program will include the presentation of awards in a variety of categories, including the Overall Prize.The seventh annual Rocky Mountain Student Filmfest takes place Friday and Saturday, May 12-13, at 7:30 p.m. at Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale. For further information, go to rmsfilmfest.org.

Uphill slide: award-winner gains wider exposureA year ago, Matt Hobbs arrived as a filmmaker. Hobbs, then a junior at Basalt High School, took the Overall Prize at the Rocky Mountain Student Filmfest, and the Best Student Film honor at Aspen Filmfest’s Local Filmmakers Showcase, for “State Dreams,” a documentary of Basalt High’s 2004 soccer season.This year, Hobbs continues his work as a filmmaker. His ski/snowboard video, “Smooth Denali,” shows Saturday night in the Rocky Mountain Student Filmfest.But Hobbs, 18, has also been working at turning his films into a brand. “Last year, I just wanted to make a movie. But it evolutionized into a whole company – jerseys, stickers,” said Hobbs, who happened to be wearing an oversize tank jersey inscribed with the Vital Team logo.Hobbs’ initial ambition for this year was to make a short ski film. Instead, he is still at work on a major project that includes a team of downhilling athletes, and footage from all the mountains in the Roaring Fork Valley as well as Lake Tahoe’s Northstar. “I guess my character set in,” shrugged Hobbs. “I want to go as big as I can. And it got a lot bigger than I thought.” (The film to be screened tomorrow, a five-minute promo of the larger work-in-progress, is also viewable at http://www.vitalsoldier.com.)”Big” in Hobbs’ case includes lining up sponsors for the Vital Team. The Roaring Fork Club gave him a camera. (In return, Hobbs shoots weddings and promo videos for the club.) The Aspen Skiing Co. has helped him set up snowmobile shoots. Nine Seven Zero provides apparel and accessories, and Rock Star gives him cases of its energy drink.”People want the film. That’s the basis of it all,” said Hobbs, who expects to spend one semester at the Colorado Film School, before returning to on-the-job training. “But they also want the product. People see it as a company.”The exposure “Smooth Denali” is receiving has also been super-sized. Hobbs first planned to air it on local TV. But thanks to the website http://www.newschoolers.com, an outlet for ski films, the film has global reach.”And it gets hundreds of hits a day, with people from France and Canada saying how great it looks,” said Hobbs. The film, he added, is slated for a review in Freeskier magazine in the fall.Hobbs hasn’t lost focus on the filmmaking side of his enterprise. With “Smooth Denali,” and whatever follows, he aims to differentiate himself from the standards of the ski film.”Basically, every single ski film is the same: ‘Here’s Joe, Fred and Bob and look what they can do.’ It’s like a music video,” he said. “I want to add a different element to it, with story and theme. I touched that with ‘Smooth Denali.’ It’s like a philosophy, a state of mind. It’s just a word, but I’ve turned it into a feeling, that feeling that only a skier gets.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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