News: Third Annual New York City Drone Film Festival

New York, NY (March 18, 2016) On March 18, 2017, producer Randy Scott Slavin presented the Third Annual New York City Drone Film Festival.

Anyone who doubted the exploding enthusiasm for drone filmmaking need only consider the differences between this year’s event and last year’s. In 2016, the festival was held within the sedate confines of the Directors Guild Theater: this year, the auditorium at NYU’s Skirball Center, with its grand staircase entrance and DJ Hesta Prynne (Slavin’s wife) pounding out beats on stage before the screenings. Last year, attendees grabbed free beers out of an ice chest. This year, a cash bar offered wine, liquor and bottled water. Last year, techsperts carefully explained the technology and its applications. This year, comely young ladies helped you put on virtual reality goggles and held your arm in case you lost your balance. And gone were the cute little cupcakes decorated like drones. The list of sponsors had grown exponentially. As for the prizes: last year’s were generous, but this year’s comprised a list long enough to become a running joke as they were listed with each category (A $1250 gift certificate, Samsung 360 kit and so forth.). And the best-in-show grand prize was a drone camera valued at $50,000 to $70,000. Time to talk to your financial consultant about drone tech. They are, emphatically, the filmmaking toys of the moment. And toys means boys. This is a testosterone-fueled scene filled with a sense of exploration and adventure.

One thing in common with last year: certain categories are a natural fit with the airborne freedom of these new cameras.

In “Extreme Sports,” surfing videos like Sessions (Eric Sterman) that take the viewer inside the wave and night skiing subjects like Moon Line (Fred Rousseau) have become drone staples. In the winning title Cala d’en Serra (Giles Campbell Longley and Kie Willis), it was, gratifyingly, the athletic prowess of Eric Moor, leaping across rooftops at an abandoned Spanish resort and doing full body flips, that drew gasps from the audience as much as the technology that allowed us to follow him.

“Landscapes” are another good fit. The winner, Australia – The Eagle Eye (Wild Pacific Media), followed various animals including wild geese and camels as they flew or raced across deserts and even the ancient rock formations of the Pilbara. Nordlund (Michael Fletcher and Alan Mathieson) took us up where the mountain tops meet the clouds in views the German Romantics only dreamed of. I half expected Wagnerian gods to come thundering through the mists. In Perspective, documentarian Jay Worsley filmed from so high, the Southwestern USA vistas became abstractions.

“Architecture” provided some real beauties. Dizi (David Etienne Durivage) achieved kaleidoscopic effects by synching up mirror images of buildings in Montreal and Quebec. In the winner, Byzantine (Bigfly), the camera hovered mystically in the hazy sunlight of a Neo Byzantine church. Perfect for Lent.

As with filmmaking in general, a good narrative is hard to find. The “Narrative” winner, The Mountain Within (Phillippe Woodtli, WOOP Productions), is a beautifully visualized inspirational message, but hardly a narrative. Drone Star Wars (Sam Gorski & Wren Weichman) is, well, a Star Wars parody.

“Featuring Drones” fared better. Dron’t You Love Me (Madeleine Dudley) is a very funny send-up of rom-coms, with a drone as one point on a love triangle. There was a heartfelt sigh from the audience when (SPOILER ALERT) the drone was discarded in favor of the live man. The winner here, Drone Cake Baking (thisisTilt), was hilarious as drones attempted to assemble a cake. There was splatter aplenty in this high-tech tribute to the pies-in-the-face and overturned wedding cakes of classic farce. The cake, by the way, was a mess. Pastry chefs, your jobs are secure (for the moment).

The party’s over: A scene from Dron’t You Love Me, a short film by Madeleine Dudley

The biggest audience response of the night was for the winner in the “News and Documentary” category: Drone Operators of #NoDAPL, which documented protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The audience stood and cheered as the recipients railed against “the occupiers.” I guess there had to be one concession to Northeastern political fashion. This is not the place to discuss the realities of the DAPL, but for this reviewer, the most affecting film here was Manabi 7.8. This account of the Ecuadorian earthquake of April 16, 2016 viewed the damage and detailed the use of drones to locate and help save victims. The life-affirming spirit of the survivors was truly uplifting, especially two little brothers who lost their entire family. Speaking of testosterone, they gleefully showed off their scars.

In the “Dronie” (drone selfie) category, Florian Fletcher won, making him three for three. I’ll go ahead and date myself by comparing him to Edith Head.

There were fewer films shown this year, so the only loser was the guy selling anti-seizure medication. Otherwise, a glorious burst of images and a celebration of technology. Only the beginning.

Check out all the winners and sponsors at WWW.NYCDRONEFILMFESTIVAL.COM


About David

David Leopold is an actor, writer and videographer who would take a Sherpa ride up a Tibetan mountain to see an Edwige Feuillère movie.