Watching a Super 8 film is trippy. The classic format is like an old home video, warping every grainy frame back to 1976. It’s a novelty art in modern filmmaking that is no longer even taught at Syracuse, but the three student filmmakers behind “Pet Hotel” explored it for just that reason.
“Super 8 was, and still is incredibly intriguing to us, as it’s not taught at SU and is growing increasingly obscure. You always want what you can’t have,” says writer/director Philip Steiger, a junior film major.
“Pet Hotel,” a short film screened in Shaffer Hall last month, uses the retro medium to frame the strange, psychedelic story of Ford (Ford Bostwick, that is)—a senior architecture and sculpture major The film was written and directed by Steiger, Bostwick, and senior sculpture major Alex Svoboda, all of whom helped produce, and independently finance, the film.
The 15-minute runtime takes Ford on an introspective and mildly confusing journey, starting as he argues with his fiancée, Becky Reiser, a graduate sculpture student, and ending with Ford staring into Niagara Falls.
In between is a mess of nostalgic, peculiar, and more than slightly disturbing scenes. Ford finds himself in places like an eerie motel, the middle of a screamo concert, a creepy dentist’s office, and passed out in his old childhood tree house.
“Pet Hotel,” disjointed and puzzling as it was, had real emotional resonance. The why and how of Ford’s experiences were hazy, but the Super 8 film set a layered atmosphere. It gave wistful meaning to mundane scenes like rolling a tire down a grassy hill, or eating alone in an old-timey, neon-lit diner.
To finance the film, Steiger, Bostwick, and Svoboda applied for a co-circular grant from the College of Visual & Performing Arts, designated for projects outside of the classroom.
They were awarded $300, or one-fourth of their budget, and scrounged up the rest of the money—used for buying and digitalizing the film stock, cameras, equipment, production, etc—themselves through donations and personal funds. They did post-production on the short at 51 3rd St., a communal artist residency in Troy, NY.
“This film was not completed for a class, as we did not want the academic burden, pressure, and deadlines,” says Steiger. “We wanted to explore a medium that was not being taught and observe the character and situation we had created.”
It’s still uncertain what message the filmmakers were trying to get across with “Pet Hotel,” what exactly happened in “Pet Hotel,” or even why exactly it’s called “Pet Hotel.” Nonetheless, the short is a unique achievement in independent filmmaking, financed through unconventional means and shot with nuance and singular vision on Super 8 film.
Viewers may be as confused as Ford as to why and how he ended up staring out at Niagara Falls, but they can’t say the journey wasn’t intriguing.
If you caught the screening of “Pet Hotel," let us know what you thought @JerkMagazine. Or, if you just want to talk old school film geek stuff, we're okay with that, too.