In 1950, the U.S. government produced a documentary on the campuses of MU and Stephens College and the surrounding countryside. The 20-minute film, titled “This Charming Couple,” aimed to curb the rising divorce rate in post-World War II America.
The film was originally about a young, happy couple whose marriage quickly disintegrates because of unresolved personal differences, but local filmmakers were given the chance to make the film about whatever they wanted.
As part of the True/False Film Festival, Columbia Access Television offered DVD copies of the film for filmmakers to re-edit, rework, or remake the film into their own three- to five-minute short. The CATapult Cinema Showdown was held at The Blue Note on Saturday evening. Chip Gubera, director of the film “Song of the Dead,” was master of ceremonies at the event and introduced each of the 14 films.
The entries were judged by a panel comprising St. Louis Post-Dispatch critic Harper Barnes, independent filmmaker John Pierson, film archivist Rick Prelinger, Amy King from the Silverdocs Film Festival and producer Vanessa Arteaga from Wellspring Releases. Prizes were awarded for the top three films. The third-place winner received a full year’s training at Columbia Access Television, the second-place winner $50 and mini DVD storage racks, and the first-place winner $100 in tape stock and $100 cash.
The filmmakers were allowed to do whatever they wished with their three to five minutes, but they were judged on how well they used the original footage.
The first-place prize went to “Love is a Trainwreck,” which received the greatest audience response of the night. Filmmaker Justin Powers matched the lyrics from a rock song of the same name with selected scenes from the movie. The song, by artist Lad the Dog, mimics a petty argument between lovers.
In his modest speech, Powers said thanks for the response and the beer money.
“This Charming Coup” took the second-place prize. Filmmaker Keith Hamm reworked the original documentary into a surreal nightmare, repeating and altering certain frames and slowing the dialogue to an incomprehensible drone.
The third-place prize went to “Straight to the Altar,” in which filmmaker Raymond Almeida used dark jazz and somber voice-overs to lend a noir air to the film. The film’s editing portrayed the husband as a closeted homosexual.
In another entry, filmmaker Jay Hasheider used just a small snippet of the original in his satirical “This Corporate Couple,” in which a young married couple allows corporate sponsors to plant chips in their bodies that block out all of the negative aspects of married life.
One film reworked the original documentary into a thrilling James Bond-esque spy flick called “This Deadly Couple.” The husband and wife in the film aretransformed into assassins who must eliminate the deadly villain known as “The Bishop,” the man who performs the marriage in “This Charming Couple.”
There was also more sentimental fare. In “These Charming Couples,” local married couples, including Mayor Darwin Hindman and his wife, Axie, were interviewed about what has made their marriage work. The couples in the film offered such sage advice as ignoring the annoying quirks of your spouse and simply marrying the right person.
The event was not without technical difficulties. “Scenes from a Mirage” dubbed Japanese dialogue over selected scenes from the documentary, but the English subtitles that the filmmaker had prepared were missing. Another film, “Are They Truly That Charming?” inexplicably stopped in the middle of its screening.