Sweet sweet sweding

Local artists re-create classic films from memory

A film fest it’d stand to reason would be built on the efforts of filmmakers. Not so for DIY film festival By Heart or By Hearsay 2: 2 Heart 2 Hearsay which screens at Tubby Dog on Thursday December 20.

“We’re punks” says Kevin Stebner a festival co-organizer. “But instead of playing with guitars at all-ages shows we’re playing with video cameras. It’s not the same as [movies commonly ascribed as] independent film — those movies have hundreds and thousands of dollars of infrastructure behind them. Those films take six figures to produce — they’re like the Feist of the film world. We’re like homemade cassettes.”

The comparison’s apt: By Heart or By Hearsay showcases locally produced sweded films — they’re amateur re-creations of established titles with scenes shot in one continuous take. (The term was popularized in Jack Black and Mos Def’s video rental store comedy Be Kind Rewind .) Expect to see tributes to Hook Home Alone Batman Returns and an extremely drunken adaptation of Arnie’s yuletide classic Jingle All the Way . Stebner and his team for their part handled It’s a Wonderful Life which he promises involves a dummy-effigy being tossed into the Bow River. (“It’s supposed to mirror me” he adds “right down to the mustache.”)

Yes things can get elaborate. But don’t expect the film adaptations to be as painstakingly accurate as say DIY classic Raiders of the Lost Backyard .

“Many of these films were created by people working in the artistic world but we don’t necessarily know what we’re doing” says Stebner. “We’re not a part of film culture in Calgary — we’re sidestepping it. [The traditional film community] never encapsulated us reached out to us or captured our imaginations. But then we’re not filmmakers. We’re fans of culture.”

As Stebner explains he and the event’s organizers — Heart or by Hearsay debuted last August at Choose Yer Own Fest and includes many of the DIY fest’s participants including co-founder Dana Schloss — chose a Hollywood-centric theme for the proceedings then assigned specific films to participating teams. From there it’s up to each team to create their own 10-minute sweded film with one caveat: The teams can’t refer to the originals as a reference point. The result? Hilarious often misguided interpretations of original films recounted by — you guessed it — heart or by hearsay.

“People might try to cheat by watching the original film so they can create a perfect replica but that’s not really fun. The idea for us is to assign movies people know but haven’t seen a ton of times” says Stebner. “Because the funniest part [in these films] is trying to remember parts of movies — we wouldn’t want someone trying to do Star Wars because it’s a movie everyone’s seen 700 times.”

There’s likely larger statements to be made by sweded films: Perhaps in hyper-condensed tributes these movies can distill a film’s essence. Perhaps they make a statement about intention and interpretation. Perhaps they’re making an argument that film has been or should be democratized. But more likely By Heart or By Hearsay’s an experiment in y’know having fun.

“We try to approach it like we’re living in a world without DVD players or VHS tapes. You have to rely on your own stilted memory to recall these movies” adds Stebner. “And yeah it’s a whole lot of fun.”