48 hours of MAD violence

Students filming their short film for Durham College's third annual MAD 48 Hour Film Challenge Photo credit: Dakota Evans

What do a turkey baster, a rubber ducky, and a plastic flashlight all have in common? They have all been used by students as murder weapons in the MAD 48-Hour Film Challenge.

The theme this year was “A Hero’s Journey” but almost all the students had a theme of their own in mind. It was a violent one.

“Younger people are so used to seeing violence and are so desensitized to it and how it can be used for effects. I saw this in the screening,” said Jennifer Bedford, a professor in Advanced Filmmaking, and a member of the MAD Film Challenge committee.

While not trying to censor the creativity of students, the thought of a hero does not have to mean violence.

Almost 90 per cent of the films involved in the challenge were blatantly violent against people from stabbings, muggings, beatings, and even violence in dialogue.

“We asked [the students in the challenge] to keep their films family-friendly, but I think swearing today in 2018 is so pervasive, 10 years ago you didn’t hear people dropping F-bombs or hearing (stuff) on television,” according to Bedford. “You hear and see that everywhere now, it’s a matter of time until we’re desensitized further.”

The 50 groups of students were given a prop they had to incorporate: a magnifying glass, a flashlight, a butterfly net, and a handheld dustpan with broom.

“I wasn’t part of purchasing the props this year but this is something we talk about at a high level in the committee, we think of props that wouldn’t immediately lean the students towards violence,” says Bedford.

Greg Murphy, the dean for the school of Media, Art, and Design (MAD), started the film challenge three years ago. Murphy says the film challenge committee, made up of MAD faculty, doesn’t try to direct people to a certain way of thinking.

This year’s props were not the most violent objects a group of students could be given, but students decided to be creatively violent with them anyway.

One group decided to use its magnifying glass as a murder weapon.

“To take a magnifying glass and to break it to get a shard of glass to cut someone’s throat with, that’s taking it to a whole new level, I think taking the shock value of violence is supposed to be crafty,” says Bedford.

The students only had 103 seconds to tell a story but, most of the students took the easy route and murdered someone to resolve the issue in their films.

Andrea Braithwaite, a pop culture expert from UOIT, says a hero’s journey is also known as the monomyth by anthropologist Joseph Campbell. AS she talks about the journey, she draws a circle on the desk to explain the cycle, which includes the hero, a conflict and a resolution. The journey can start at any point, such as atonement or transformation, but to conclude, it must follow the circle.

Braithwaite suggested the idea all stories share a similar trajectory with similar kinds of characters advancing the plot.

The journey of a hero doesn’t have to follow violence but Braithwaite says when the journey does follow a violent path, it can tell more about the culture in which the story was told.

Some of the films in the challenge were clipped and shortened by editors due to the extreme use of violence before the screening.

Two groups added props of their own, including a gun and a pocket knife. Another group of students had one of its members get stabbed repeatedly (by the pocket knife) and die. This action led to the film ending with the hero beating the villain lifeless with a plastic flashlight.

“Who knew a plastic flashlight and a magnifying glass would be used as weapons,” says Murphy who noticed a tendency to default to violence. “You will see this overwhelming sort of theme that runs through media or through writing that manifests itself in the way we express our stories.”

According to Bedford, modern pop-culture would have had an influence on the groups since most students receive their news from social media like Twitter or Facebook.

“I think that’s why students immediately went to violence,” she says.

Relying upon violence in imagery and iconography is an effective way to represent conflict in a way that is easily understandable to a wide variety of people, according to Braithwaite.

“It’s a useful representative tool in some respects, it is not a surprise to not suggest that we are living in conflicted times,” says Braithwaite. “We regularly see expressions in disagreements manifest themselves in violent ways.”

In his book Marxism and Literature, cultural studies scholar Raymond Williams suggests specific time periods have structures of feelings in which everyone involved is self-aware of change as a possibility.

“Williams tells us these things are easier to see in hindsight than they are at the time, and maybe this is part of our contemporary structure of feeling, in which more aggressive and violent ways whether it is physical or symbolic become how we start to negotiate disagreement,” says Braithwaite.

Most of the films in the challenge resorted to physical violence despite the innocuous props.

Arguably, violence was used to tell a story about the hero’s journey. Some of these stories were not resolved. Some faded to black. Some ended in death.

Braithwaite says we live in conflicted times. “We regularly see expression and disagreement express themselves in violent ways.”Braithwaite says, “Violence is violence is violence.”