Last night, Renae and I attended the 2005 Nebbies, a ceremony meant to honor various student films and web sites. The ceremony is put on by UNL’s Film and New Media program, which is part of the Theatre Arts department.
I must confess that I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into when I walked into The Ross. Anytime you start discussing student films, there’s this unconscious fear that you’re in for a couple of hours of incredibly amateur productions by a bunch of kids who just discovered Avid systems. Or even worse, a couple of hours of incredibly pretentious productions by a bunch of kids who just discovered Godard’s films. Happily, neither was the case last night, as the films were pretty enjoyable overall.
The Adventures of 8‑Bit and Grunge Boy was a fun little short about two unlikely superheroes, one with Nintendo powers reminiscent of Captain N, the other with grunge-fuelled powers such as fireballs that turned things to flannel (sort of). Our friend Bethany (psst, bring back your blog!) had several of her films shown, with her main piece being The Mundane Adventures of Thomas P. Goldsby, a quirky, Wes Anderson-esque short about a dopey janitor trying to work up the courage to talk to a girl at the office he cleans. The short’s humor was subtle yet effective: any time you can make the audience laugh with a guy dropping one of those little “No Fishing” signs into his fishbowl, you’ve got something.
Absolution was one of the clear audience favorites of the night. Framed as a conversation with God, the film followed a young gay man as he wrestled with his lifestyle, guilt, loneliness, and betrayal. The film dealt with some pretty sobering material, but it did a great job of balancing comedy and tragedy, and several scenes were flat-out hilarious.
The night’s winner for “Best Film” was Skates. Based on a song by singer/songwriter Hayden, the film’s set-up was pretty simple — a guy ruminates over a broken relationship, trying to figure out what to do while scribbling in his journals at night — but director John Young imbued the film with an amazing atmosphere of loneliness and isolation, both visually and musically. Several scenes were quite poignant and haunting, especially the final scenes where he seems to come to some sort of resolution.
After the screenings, we went into the lobby where the finalists for “Best Student Website” were on display. One of the first things I did with every website was view their source code, something Renae found quite amusing. Recently, I came across an article lamenting the fact that most colleges teaching Web design teach only the really cool, flashy stuff like, well, Flash. However, they neglect to teach such integral concepts as usability, accessibility, and Web standards.
Thankfully, there weren’t too many gratuitous Flash sites on display. However, most of the sites I did look at were by no means well-designed. Sure, they all looked really great and had really cool concepts, especially the winning site — a gorgeous-looking tribute to September 11 — but they also had inconsistent and confusing navigations and site structures, non-standard code, inextricably linked markup and presentation, etc.
I’ll admit my comments my seem a little harsh, and for all I know, these were the very first sites these students designed. I have no idea when these sites were created and for all I know, the students could very well be delving into standards-based design as part of their curricula, which just didn’t make into these particular sites. Even so, in this day and age where Web standards and accessibility are becoming absolutely essential to creating successful and effective Web sites, I sincerely hope that these concepts are starting to catch on at my alma mater.
And finally, just let me say how insanely jealous I am of today’s UNL students for having this sort of program available to them. I don’t want this to turn into one of those rambling “when I was a student” spiels that make me sound like a crotchety old fart, but when I was a student, anyone interested in new media (in my case, Web design) had to sort of fumble their way around campus, trying to cobble together some sort of program from what little was available.
The Web was still in its infancy, and it’s safe to say that most faculty outside the computer science department were only barely aware of its existence. Which in my case, meant learning almost everything on my own while huddled in the Selleck computer lab piecing HTML together with SimpleText. But today, students interested this field seem to have an insane amount of resources at their disposal, as well as faculty who are devoted to this stuff. Which bodes quite well for their prospects, I think.