Here's why 'Yard Kings' might have won a few awards
Let's talk about cliches for a second. There are a few present in most of the student films out there. I am talking about the alarm clock opening shot followed by the dramatic cigarette. About the depressed artist surrounded by white walls. And then there is the gun. The gun John's dad owns, and it has to be used in the film because... well, there is a gun to be used. The dolly zoom, dream sequences, time-lapses, lousy audio, slow dialogue, overused video effects, mirror shots and interminable credit sequences.
For my surprise, 'Yard Kings' directed by Vasco Alexandre, does not have any of these cliches. Although its topic is too overused -domestic abuse- Vasco managed to approach it with a different perspective: through a child's protagonist's eyes. The film just began its circuit, and I could watch it online in South London Film Festival. In my view, the reason why it has many nominations and won a bunch of student awards already is its urgent story and its gritty aesthetic, inspired by 'Social Realism' directors such as Andrea Arnold and Ken Loach.
Student filmmakers are always looking for new ways to create films while keeping their production cost low. However, although it is still possible to aim for ambitious stories, usually the issue comes up in visual matters.
This is what the film's crew managed to do so efficiently. By assuming a documentary look for the film, the non-experienced cast and rough cinematography are 'forgiven' because it suits the story's tone. In the end, the amateur look is part of the film world and makes us believe these decisions would be the same even if the budget was 100x higher.
However, although the film stands out, it lacks a good story structure to win a major competition. Student films often get a bad reputation for being unorganized, unprofessional and shallow when it comes to plot development. 'Yard Kings' fall into this stereotype. Ellie, A 9-year-old from an abusive household builds a new home for herself in a scrapyard nearby with her best friend Pete to escape her reality. But the climax comes too soon, and there is no time enough to allow the audience to connect with the character.
Maybe if this story was made into a feature-length film, these issues could be worked out better. Although this is a significant problem, you can wonder what would this director do with an experienced writer working along with him.
Making a career as a Director can be a tough road to travel. Film directors are typically hired on their track record's strength, making it very difficult for students to get a foothold in the industry. I believe a great way to stand out as a student filmmaker is to follow what Vasco tried to achieve: Be ambitious with the tools you have and get everyone working for the same effect. It's not about money. It's about getting that feel just right.