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Student-made film shines a light on escapism and its consequences

Fourth-year biochemistry student Peter Yang directed “Strange Fodder,” a film that is currently in pre-production. The film deals with escapism, following a protagonist who enters multiple realities after suffering a traumatic experience. (Courtesy of Peter Yang)

By Tabatha Lewis-Simó

Apr. 8, 2019 10:48 pm

Peter Yang wants to give students food for thought about escapism in his film “Strange Fodder.”

The fourth-year biochemistry student’s film project stars fourth-year sociology student Daniel Vallejo, who mentally enters a series of new realities after experiencing an unspecified traumatic event. The narrative follows both what is actually going on around the main character Daniel and the world he creates in his imagination. The film explores the ways people utilize escapism in order to cope with what has happened to them, Yang said.

Entering new realities can be as simple as immersing oneself in a medium of entertainment, such as Netflix or podcasts, or acting differently in certain contexts, such as at work or a party, Yang said. For example, someone watching the show “Friends” could imagine what it would be like living in New York and sitting down to have coffee with their friends. Such thought processes could serve as a form of escapism, which he said many college students use to cope with their various stresses.

“Sometimes you watch a TV show, you see these characters and you feel like you’re in the show, you feel like you’re a main character,” Yang said. “You pretend, ‘Oh, what if my life was like that?'”

Yang said he did not want the film to center on mental health, instead focusing on dealing with the much broader issue of escapism. In the film, Daniel will integrate aspects of his real life, such as his friends, into his imagined state. However, these versions of his friends have entirely different personalities than they do in real life. For example, one of his friends becomes judgmental and snarky, which is the inverse of her actual personality. This creates a contrast between real life and the new reality Daniel has entered.

Vallejo said the role requires him to sustain a sad, contemplative state as his character is constantly switching from an contemplative state and being fully present in the real world. Despite fluctuating between realities, Vallejo said his character doesn’t change much throughout the film. Instead, his character development relies on other characters’ constantly changing personalities.

“It’s basically me reacting to different facets of my imagination,” Vallejo said. “I don’t change much throughout the film; however, I do tend to react to what the other characters are doing differently.”

Yang said the film will use elements such as lighting, sound and editing to convey the sense of multiple realities. For example, scenes that take place in reality will have darker lighting, while scenes that take place in one of the new realities Daniel enters will be lit more brightly.

Erratic cuts and special effects will also help to convey the various realities, said Michael Evangelista, a fourth-year applied linguistics student and the film’s main editor. The film will also break the 180-degree rule in film, thus creating a distortion of screen direction, he said. Breaking this rule can make two characters that are facing each other look as if they are both facing the same direction, which he said skews the audience’s perception of direction in the scene. In doing so, Evangelista said he tried to point to the issues Daniel faces by focusing so intently on his imagined reality.

Escapism is context-dependent within the film, which Yang said is similar to what students go through. During finals week, for example, he said students have to change their mindset in order to study, as opposed to a more casual week in the quarter. Similarly, Daniel tends to become more imaginative when he interacts with media, such as listening to podcasts on his way to work, he said.

“If you look at libraries on a normal midterm weekend versus a finals weekend, everything is much more exaggerated and dining halls close down for people to study,” Yang said. “It’s sort of like we all transport ourselves to a different mode.”

But while Daniel is in those new realities, Yang said his real-life problems persist, which shows that escapism doesn’t permit you to fully escape from real life. The climax of the film, Daniel’s mental breakdown, is a result of him not coping with his real-world problems. Similarly, Yang said students in college all have issues they have to handle; however, they may not overcome them if they use entertainment to escape them.

“I thought the issue of dealing with traumatic events or difficult situations sort of forces us to put on a mask and also imagine ourselves in different masks because we want to escape our given situation,” Yang said.

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Tabatha Lewis-Simó | Opinion columnist | News contributor
Lewis is an Opinion columnist and News contributor.
Lewis is an Opinion columnist and News contributor.
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