In 2010, Applause for a Cause founders and Northwestern alumni Sarah Jane Inwards and Alec Ziff wanted to “push the boundaries of student filmmaking,” according to this year’s program. Now in its fourth year, Applause successfully does so with the reality bending, beautifully shot psychological drama that is Imogen.
The film tells the story of titular character Imogen, played by Communication sophomore Jessie Pinnick, as she navigates her junior year of high school burdened by past memories, habits of sleepwalking and hallucinations of a doppelganger. An imaginary friend from her past comes to haunt her as she tries to uncover family secrets and negotiate with past traumatic experiences, all in a familiar high school setting accompanied with snobby bullies and a sometimes frustrating guidance counselor.
But in addition to the storytelling, acting, directing and other aspects that make Imogen an enjoyable film, what really makes this one stand out is its ability to work beyond the constraints of a college budget. Despite being a student film, Imogen transports audiences outside the familiar Evanston landscape. Except for a few locations such as the hallways of Tech or the inside of the Great Room, Imogen does not feel geographically contained. The opening sequence, for example, weaves around rural landscapes, dark roads and a forest that sets up an ominous, surreal, fantasy landscape for Imogen to exist in. Much of the action in the film – including scenes that blur the line between dreams and reality – take place at a lake surrounded by meadows that is certainly refreshing to the urban and suburban landscape of much of Evanston and Chicago.
Despite the dark nature of its content, Imogen does not forget that its audience is primarily Northwestern students (and their families). Several humorous moments are sprinkled throughout the film, proving that the directors know how to handle both comedic and mature content. There is even a cameo of Communication junior Kelly Engler, the lead actress of Summer’s Winter, who humorously alludes to the title of last year’s film. There are also several allusions to Greek mythology in the storyline and in details in the sets that show the thought and attention the crew put into making Imogen.
Although the storyline is quite lucid and easy to follow, Imogen deals with many overarching themes and asks several questions that cannot be easily answered. Imogen’s journey of discovery reveals themes of loss and recovery while certain symbolic items, such as her childhood doll, represent a human desire to cling onto the past – especially in the aftermath of tragedy. The relationship between Imogen and her father also poses a difficult question on how people are expected to move on from trauma, especially when it involves loved ones.
Going along with the film’s theme of recovery, it is appropriate that this year’s beneficiary is Snow City Arts. Snow City Arts is an organization that provides arts education to long-term hospitalized children in Chicago hospitals, offering workshops on creative writing, music, painting, photography and filmmaking that can count as course credits.
Of course, there come challenges with the limitations of making a film in a single school year. Shooting almost entirely took place during winter quarter, which hit the cast and crew with extreme weather and complicated the time frame of the film – Imogen takes place in the beginning of the school year, but the snow and frigid temperatures were apparent in many of the outdoor scenes. Despite these obstacles, Imogen proves that student filmmakers have both the ability and ambition to create a feature-length film while still keeping its beneficiary in mind.