Archive for Thursday, September 30, 1999


September 30, 1999


A young filmmaker's new movie is bound to set off some controversy.

When the Harvest of Arts Film Festival opens Friday night, Ethan Shaftel's new feature, "Hula Hoop," is bound to create both a buzz and some controversy.

The Lawrence native, now a University of Southern California sophomore majoring in film production, has made a sometimes-funny, often-ironic 24-minute flick about a college student who looses touch with reality by playing a violent video game.

Recent headlines have blasted the entertainment industry over TV, movie and video game violence, and Shaftel is sure to cause a stir because his film takes another tact. With "Hula Hoop" Shaftel is out to skewer the notion that entertainment violence leads to actual violence.

"I just don't think that's true," Shaftel said. "I think that they (video games) are another way to think of aggression. It's about how video games give an outlet."

Shaftel already knows his work is controversial. During the Kan Film Festival in June, Kansas City's KCTV-Channel 5 refused to air footage of his video.

"The producers felt it was too risky to show, so they would not air the clips," he said.

Mark von Schlemmer, a KCTV producer, is the coordinator for the Harvest of Arts Film Festival. Though his TV station would not air the film clips, he was still impressed with Shaftel's work and made sure it was included in the festival.

"It's very well put together, clearly planned and thought out," von Schlemmer said.

Shaftel got the idea for the film when political leaders and the press turned their focus on Hollywood and other entertainment mediums over the use of violent imagery to sell their products.

Films including "Natural Born Killers" and "The Basketball Diaries," video games like "Doom" and musicians such as Marilyn Manson were all pointed at as promoting violence. Shaftel believes his film shows that pursuing a real course of violence is a foolish choice, and he hopes to use humor to convince viewers of his theme.

"It's funny in parts, relatively dramatic but put forth in a light-hearted way. I'm trying not to give anyone impressions of the film, so there are no expectations of seriousness," he said.

The film centers on Mark, a college student who becomes obsessed with playing the Nintendo game "Golden Eye" after he finds out his girlfriend, Kristen, is cheating on him with Joe, another college student. Mark begins seeing life through the impression of the video game, and he fantasizes about killing the wayward lovers.

The ending does not turn out the way the audience might think, and the gun Mark uses actually sprays something other than bullets.

"It really shows that when something bad happens you can't obsess. Mark ends up making an even bigger fool of himself," he said.

Shaftel used USC equipment to make the film, though it was not sponsored by the film school. He also wrote and edited the piece, and he appears as Joe in the film.

And even though he's only a sophomore, he is gaining quite the reputation as a film autuer. As part of the honors program, Shaftel has been asked to utilize new equipment from the film department for his next production.

Using digital video and camera equipment superior to those used in network broadcasts, Shaftel is filming his next movie -- also based around Mark-- but this time he's involved with the cartoon character Mr. Super.

Shaftel's film will use filters, lens and optical effects to create the cartoon character, and he also will work with a professional post-production house on the editing of the movie. The film will then be used for instruction in the department, and Shaftel will help train others to use the equipment.

"A lot of people are working on this new film," he said. "It's the largest cast and crew I've ever had. Since I got here, I've found that people are really willing to help make movies."

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