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Amateur Focus: Amnesia

August 11, 2009

As a high school English teacher, I have met many young, passionate kids eager to explore the art of film. Each year I would hold a film festival during the final week of school.  It was a culminating project of a year’s worth of literary exploration that included literature, film, and music.  Each class would break into five or six groups and spend about 18 weeks studying film, pitching an idea, developing a treatment, writing a script, storyboarding each scene, shooting the film, editing the final cut, preparing a poster, and creating a trailer.  

Out of about 30 films across five classes, there would always be 1 or 2 that really worked, that really showed potential.  And there were always at least two really ambitious groups that would try to make a full length feature.  My advice to those groups was always the same. “Absolutely,” I would say.  “But it better be entertaining and it better warrant the length.”  Ultimately, during my 8 years, only one group ever actually completed the full length feature.  And it was worthy. 

John Bosley’s Amnesia is an example of a young filmmaker trying to make a full length feature out of an idea that warrants only a short film.  The story is relatively simple.  A man wakes up in the woods with amnesia.  The world has been overtaken and is now under the rule of a one world government.  There are men with masks exterminating all those who do not submit to the will of the new world order.  And Alan Carter, alone and without recollection of who he is, only has one goal – to find his family. 

Haunted by a recurring flashback of a young woman on her knees pleading for her life, it is clear that this scene is the key.  And this flashback is staged in expert fashion.  The bright white light against the snowy hillside, the frantic screaming of the young girl, the helpless victims strewn about each display a filmmaker in control of his skills.  There is some talent hidden in this scene. 

But this scene is all there is.  Amnesia ultimately presents a group of people running through the forest with little to do.  Masked gunmen walk up behind unsuspecting people and point their guns.  And then they wait.  Of course, they wait because someone is coming to rescue the innocents.  It is like cops and robbers.  “Freeze, put your hands up,” we used to say when we were little.  But then we didn’t know what to do next.  In real life, the evil men pull the trigger, ridding themselves of the rebels.  But in Amnesia, they stand frozen and wait to be attacked by the hero. 

In one truly laughable scene, Alan Carter is creeping through the forest.  He is nervous, aware that the enemy could be anywhere.  Suddenly, we see a man kneeling in plain sight jump out.  It is meant to provide a jolt, but instead evokes a laugh.  Couldn’t the man have entered the frame from somewhere off camera?  

In another scene, Alan Carter saves the lives of two of the characters by shooting the masked men.  Immediately after, he is directed to “put the gun down-killing people doesn’t solve anything.”  So he throws the gun away even though the same gun just saved their lives.  

The dialogue is poorly constructed and there are too many forced moments meant to further the story.  There are multiple scenes shot from a distance during which the sound is muffled, and the overall camera work lacks artistic vision.  Lingering shots meant for effect leave the audience staring at a blank wall or a gun without purpose, and pick up shots of character reactions come off as staged and amateur.  Often the camera watches from a distance as characters interact, leaving the scenes devoid of emotion and impact.  

Amnesia doesn’t look like a professional film, and the overall running time is bloated and unnecessary. Ultimately, Amnesia contains a few fantastic minutes surrounded by 90 minutes of a bunch of young adults running around a scenic mountainside.  If these were my students, I would have been proud of the commitment and accomplishment, and I would imagine them continuing to hone their skills.  I would dream that one of them just might hold on to the passion displayed on screen and continue into the business.  But these are not my students, and this film is not worthy of further attention on the level that the filmmakers are looking for. 

As a first attempt by amateurs at a feature film, it is admirable.  But the vision should be set on taking the best moments from Amnesia and parlaying them into a second film.  I am hopeful that John Bosley will make that film.

You can watch a preview for Amnesia here.

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