Leo Barton's first solo directorial effort makes itself known loud and clear: this film's got some serious talent behind it. Make way for the year's student filmmaking champion.
Leo Barton: if ever this University’s filmmaking scene had a man of the moment, he takes the title. Nearly two years at the University of Southampton and he’s already conquered the student filmmaking field, having taken home the title for Best Cinematography and Best Film from the annual Student Film Festival two years in a row. Whilst last year saw him dominate the night alongside filmmaking partner Iman Bahmanabadi (who also won his fair share of awards this year), 2017 saw him take on the festival with Fortune Cookie, his first lone directorial venture – and damn, it really cleaned up.
Perhaps best surmised as an incredibly pretty 12-minute exploration of love, fate and uncertainty, littered with the fragments of unsearchable human angst and a big ol’ moral written in black marker, Fortune Cookie didn’t only take home three of the highest regarded awards (Best Actress for Flora Whitmarsh on top of the others) of the night. It also reaped the runner-up titles in three other categories, totalling six honourable mentions, settling itself snugly into the night’s top-spot – both with the judging panel, and with the 200 plus guests in attendance. And rightly so, for never has a cinema been so filled with so many people so blown away by the sheer artistry of a student film. Seriously, I cannot get over how darned pretty this film is.
Granted, threading together tenuously connected chunks of ordinary life to mould itself neatly into a mosaic of the human condition isn’t exactly a fresh idea, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t an effective one. Perhaps one of the stand-out spots should go to Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Babel, or more obviously Tarintino’s Pulp Fiction or Miller’s Sin City, whilst on the other end of the scale, Love Actually sits happily in the knowledge that its fragments can provide a kind of comic relief to frame its portrait of human nature. Barton’s Fortune Cookie, which follows three different people in their own trials and tribulations, sits a little timidly amongst the razzle-dazzle of its Hollywood elders, but nonetheless comes equipped to prove itself worthy of the comparison. And, by all means, there’s nothing it brings in as much sheer abundance as the glittering enchantment to put up one hell of a fight.
Our main man for the ride is Kevin, admirably played by Jordan Gardner, stung by a recent loss. He’s given a novelty fortune cookie by a friend (Imogen Arthur), and is struck with flashbacks of the woman he lost, or rather, the reason he looks so darned mopey. It’s here that we get our first glimpse of the magnetism of Barton’s talent, as the ensuing shots are taken over by a siege of hypnotizing light and waves of unintelligible sound, and is our cue for our jaws to hit the floor. Ouch.
Deciding against opening it, Kevin drops the fortune cookie, soon to be picked up by Alice (Kamara Katama Atkinson), in the midst of her own relationship crisis with Jim (Julien Mathus). “Open it, it’ll show you the way,” says friend Nicki (Whitmarsh), who to some bemusement refuses to help but reckons the novelty snack will do the trick, to the scorn of Alice who does not. There’s a pattern emerging here. Luckily one of Fortune Cookie’s strengths is, by and large, its lack of closure. With little indication of their fate, Alice ditches the fortune cookie, but it is her and Jim who are left at the side of the road. It’s soon picked up by Gary (Red O’Sullivan – the Film Festival’s ‘Best Dressed’ winner, no doubt), who mopes on the beach with nothing but the fortune cookie, a little Sappho poetry, and an apparently driftless woman who pertly asks what he’s up to – their fate also unmapped.
After the now-highly-coveted fortune cookie is found again by Kevin, the final minute or so unfortunately drifts from the starkness of Babel to the eye-rolling cheese of Love Actually territory. Perhaps a little less closure would make for a stronger ending, but nevertheless, an impressive final curtain all the same. There’s something to be said about the sheer emotion packed into such little time, and the heart that finds its way through the authenticity of its characters and, even more so, its glowing cinematography which reeks, somehow, of both urgency and stillness – a quiet, comforting constant throughout the film’s entirety.
It’s worth noting that at the Film Festival’s end, after all the awards had been dealt and certain people, busy stacking their multiple awards, were starting to look a little like Adele at the 2012 Grammys, Professor Lucy Mazdon, head of our lovely film department, stood up and said “and just remember, when you’ve all gone and won your BAFTAS and your Academy Awards, just remember us, remember where you began.” After seeing the winning Fortune Cookie, I’ve never been more certain that Leo Barton is headed in that direction. But I’m even surer that his University of Southampton Student Film Festival wins, his first for Fortune Cookie, won’t be a night he’ll ever forget. Never was there so much heart put into a student project. And never was there so much love, and so much admiration, for one second year university student and the film he came armed with.
Fortune Cookie, directed by Leo Barton, premiered at The University of Southampton Student Film Festival 2017. Read our final round up of the night here.