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Clubland: Gabe Bernini swaps his keyboard for a movie camera 

  • A still from the new short movie (shot in Super 8 color film) “Week in Paradise” by Gabe Bernini, better known in the Valley as the keyboard player of rockers LuxDeluxe. Image courtesy Gabe Bernini

  • “Week in Paradise” has a somewhat “grainy and ghostly” look that’s a good fit for the film’s “vaguely futuristic, off-kilter” storyline, says Ken Maiuri. Image courtesy of Gabe Bernini


Wednesday, December 05, 2018

‘Two factory workers who find love in a strange utopian society” is how Gabe Bernini describes his new short film “Week In Paradise,” which gets its public premiere in the Jerome Liebling Center (room 120) on the Hampshire College campus on Monday, December 10, at 7 p.m. (There’ll be snacks! Drinks! And a Q&A with the director!)

The film, which took Bernini over a year to make, is a “dark dramedy” starring Henning Ohlenbusch and Lesa Bezo. It was shot with Super 8 color film — cutting-edge technology for families in the late 1960s, but whose images now look a little grainy and ghostly, which is perfect for the vaguely futuristic, off-kilter tale.

Bernini, 23, is a Hampshire College student who graduates this winter, and “Week In Paradise” is his Division III project (an “advanced independent study project” that students must design and complete in their final year).

“I've been working on short dramatic films throughout my time at Hampshire, but they are the most difficult kind of media I’ve ever tried to create,” Bernini said in an interview earlier this week, “It's really tough to ask people to take you seriously in film. You have to convince the audience that you know exactly what you’re doing. If you don't know what you're doing, it comes across really fast. This is the first time I feel confident that the film portrays what I envisioned.”

That vision involves lonely streets, shadowy figures, burnt toast, Olvie the frog, and a particular punchline so quick and dark that I honestly laughed out loud, partially out of shock. 

Bernini is maybe best known for his years as a musician in the Valley with such groups as Us, LuxDeluxe, and his now-defunct Gabe’s Band (don’t worry, he has a new solo record coming out in February). But he’s been making videos since signing up to be a member of Northampton Community Television when he was 13.

“I convinced two other friends to come do the classes and take the quiz that you used to have to pass to become a member,” he said. “Since then, NCTV has definitely been the most important resource for my filmmaking education.”

And when he first started film school at Hampshire and other students were referencing films he didn’t know, he took advantage of the huge DVD library at Forbes Library and watched everything he could — at least five movies a week.

Bernini said his main influences for “Week In Paradise” were works by Aki Kaurismaki and Jaques Tati, which helped him to decide to shoot on color film and use a tripod for every shot. “The music is also super important in their films,” he noted, and his own short has a jolly percolating organ-and-drum machine soundtrack, inspired by musicians like Walter Wanderley.

“I'm pretty sure ‘smooth instrumental music plays’ is written on every other page of the script,” Bernini said, adding that he got some rewriting help from Hampshire grads Gabe Ross and Jesse Moon until he finally reached a satisfying 11th draft.

He’s been working with Super 8 film for two years and finds he prefers the process over digital technology, although it comes with its own anxiety-producing issues.

“The main stress of the whole project was the fact that after a whole day of shooting with actors, extras, crew, props and costumes that I'd assembled, I couldn't look at the footage for about three weeks,” Bernini said. “This meant basically crossing my fingers that everything was in focus, exposed correctly, and that the camera was still working.”

“Luckily,” he added, “there were no huge issues. Except for the frog. Only one shot of the frog came back in focus. It was difficult to focus correctly through the tank, so there's about a half a roll ($30 worth) of blurry frog shots.”

“I try to do only one take for each shot because each second costs money,” Bernini said. “And no matter what, it's going to look pretty cool, because Super 8 has that built-in aesthetic. All of the audio has to be overdubbed, which also brings along its own look and feel.”

Bernini has done directing work before, including episodes of his comedy show “Fools Be Known” and music videos for his bands, and he says he has “a bunch of other film ideas.”

“I feel really satisfied with [“Week In Paradise”] to the point that I don't mind if people see it or not. I just want to keep making more films!”

“Week In Paradise” was partly funded by a grant from the Northampton Arts Council. If you can’t make the premiere, it will be screened again at The Parlor Room in Northampton on Tuesday, December 11, at 7 p.m., as part of the Focus Locus Local Filmmaker Showcase (which also features a screening of Ian Hamilton’s documentary “Pensacola Punks”). The event is free and BYOB, with a Q&A with the filmmakers after the screenings.