It’s common in the world of short filmmaking to get bogged down by Hollywood sheen—the flash and pizzazz that sends film school students into fits of hysteria. From RED Cameras to expensive lenses to meticulously constructed sets, all of it can quickly become a seemingly insurmountable barrier between us and our creative dreams. Then, comes a movie like Peter Lewis’s The Camera, a mysterious, intriguing tale that was made with a DSLR, no crew, and about fifty bucks. Perfect in its simplicity, beautiful and haunting in its visuals, The Camera is a reminder that a great film is in everyone’s grasp, as long as he/she has the creative capacity and appropriate willpower to drop pretension, and quite simply, make something.
And, make something he did. With The Camera, Lewis abandoned his longtime fear of failure and personal, lofty expectations and just went out and shot something. He filmed the whole short while on vacation with himself as the crew and his sister cast as the lead. The result is something special, a dreamlike Twilight Zone, told without dialogue or an ounce of moralizing. We follow our central character as she roams from beach to mysterious old house, the narrative slowly transforming from aesthetic journey to magical realism. All of this is accompanied by a gorgeous score composed by Lewis himself (beyond his storytelling chops, he’s also a classically trained musician).
The Camera is a short that is perfect in its vagueness, lived-in and mystical. It plays upon that wonderful, inexorable feeling that there is some sort of intangible magic to old places and objects. While there isn’t a strictly defined plot, the ambiguity actually enhances things here—letting your mind wander to its own conclusions. This isn’t a film that you watch, but rather float through, meandering from the striking visuals to the artful score to the surprisingly emotional conclusion. Shot entirely at magic hour, the film’s visuals are complemented by a pinkish-orange glow, giving everything a warm, enchanted quality. After all, who needs a full lighting crew when you shoot at sunset?
There’s no doubt that the advent of DSLRs have changed film, especially short film, forever. No longer encumbered by the monetary restrictions of film or the “cheap” look of video, it seems that everyone now has the tools to make amazing content. But, as with all art forms, it’s not the tools, but rather the craftsman who is responsible for elevating subject matter from the mundane to the sublime. Lewis is an ideal reflection of this sentiment—a talent who used accessible tools to create something quite remarkable. He has said that he was hesitant for many years to make his first short film for fear of failure. Well, considering the result, I can only hope that he’s firmly overcome his phobia. I don’t want to have to wait several years for the next one.