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Two seniors show off post-apocalyptic vision at Avon

It would have been impossible for a passer-by to miss the hundreds of Brown students waiting outside the Avon Cinema at 11:30 p.m. last Thursday. The line stretched from the Avon's entrance and wound around the block, transforming the street into a buzzing spectacle.

These students were waiting to see the free premiere of "The Face," a 50-minute film about two brothers in a post-apocalyptic world that was produced, written and directed by Paul Wallace '08 and Nicholas Clifford '08.

"I was blown away by the attendance," Clifford said, adding that a lot of the people who attended were not just friends and family, but people genuinely interested in the film. "It wasn't just a pity gathering," he said.

Even Richard Dulgarian, the Avon's co-owner, thought the crowd was a "bigger turnout than I'm used to."

Wallace and Clifford created a sense of intrigue and mystery for the film with what they called "guerrilla advertising." This included wrapping large white banners around trees on the Main Green, mailing hundreds of personalized fliers and providing little information about the film itself other than an online preview.

Many students lining up Thursday weren't sure exactly what they would be seeing.

"One guy asked me if I knew what the movie was about," Wallace said. "I was like, 'Yeah man, I don't really know.' It was great."

Once the doors opened, students poured into the theater - some racing to get seats.

The film began with several minutes of a completely black screen accompanied with garbled music and sounds so loud that the theater seemed to vibrate. The sounds built to a frenzied, urgent crescendo until they suddenly stopped, pitching the theater into a silent blackness.

"By using this enveloping, disorienting sound, you as the viewer are ready to receive a new world and reality," Wallace said of the film's opening moments.

And create a new world it did. Shots of ravaged building frames, graffitied walls, desolate landscapes - all drained of color - transported the viewer to a world of destruction, absent of people.

It may be hard to believe, but these other-worldly wastelands were all filmed in Rhode Island. "Who knew Rhode Island could double as a post-apocalyptic world?" said Ben Mishkin '08, who attended the premiere.

Clifford explained that because they couldn't build sets, the locations they found helped them create and develop a science fiction story they could tell.

"We wanted to create our own world," Wallace said. "In a post-apocalyptic world, everything is part of our palette. We could extend the emotions of our characters outward into locations, clothes, makeup and color of the film. Everything becomes a canvas for emotions."

Another defining aspect of the film is its focus on only two characters. The two brothers, played by Clifford and Jonathan Gordon '11, spend the duration of the film searching for what they call "The Face," an elusive refugee camp located "at the end of the tracks," safe from the mysterious "Locust." Along their journey, the brothers briefly encounter two sisters, played by Alexandra Panzer '08 and Elizabeth Rothman '11, also hiding from "The Locust."

"The story becomes not universal, but specific to these two boys," Wallace said. "It's about how to have hope in the face of death - everything is much more immediate and on a smaller scale, which allows us to explore emotions in a deeper way."

As the viewers watch the two characters struggle through this strange world, very little information or backstory is provided about the apocalypse or the brothers' plight. Clifford explained these omissions as a way to give the viewers a more unique experience, allowing them to "experience this journey and not just watch a journey."

The few characters and absence of backstory are just two of the elements that Clifford and Wallace believe make "The Face" different than other science fiction films.

"Science fiction is a very cliched genre. At all times we tried to go against that genre and make choices that aren't usually made," Wallace said. He added that in many respects, "The Face" is a zombie movie without any zombies, and a violent one without any overt violence - an unseen mysterious monster is wrecking cities and killing people.

Just as "The Face" tries to be unlike the standard science fiction film, Wallace and Clifford tried to make their film unlike other student films.

"When students make films, it's like this rite of passage where you prove you can pull off (the) same shot as they use in a feature film for nothing," Clifford said. "For us, it wasn't about proving anything. We just wanted to make this film."

But Wallace and Clifford did prove that two students taking full course loads could produce a feature film without going to film school. They hope their success encourages other students to embark on similar projects.

"While I really feel this is not just a student film, it couldn't have been anything else but a Brown film created in Brown's great environment," Wallace said.

That is why having a local premiere was so special for the two filmmakers. Since the film was completely student-created, having the "support of local vendors is just another level of that supportive community," Wallace said.

Sharing their film with Brown's community was a surreal and amazing experience for Wallace and Clifford, who described Thursday night as a kind of birth.

"It was a joy unlike anything else," Clifford said.


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