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East End Film Festival: The Center

July 7, 2015

FestivalsFilm + EntertainmentReview | by Francesco Cerniglia


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‘Make the best of what you have’. This direct quote from The Center reinforces the first point to make about filmmaker Charlie Griak’s feature debut which was executive produced by The Silence Of The Lambs‘ Oscar winning director Jonathan Demme.

The film follows fresh college graduate and aspiring writer, Ryan (Matt Cici), who is looking for a way to change his life. Coming from what seems to be an unloving home, he puts his own dreams on the side in order to help but becomes entangled in a cult-like organisation that attempts to empower those on the side lines.

Reading the synopsis, there is a linear structure to the film but after watching, there is a clear distinction between The Center and other American films in the same genre. There is no clear ending but nevertheless the film doesn’t need it. It seems that Griak was focused on creating a deep and memorable piece of filmmaking filled with empowering quotations, including the one above.

Hollywood has made film viewers around the world expect some dramatic or twisted ending but The Center goes against that, yet keeping throughout some sort of expectation of what could happen. There is a battle when watching an independent film between Hollywood expectations and the reality of what actually happens and this notion seems to come to the surface here.

There are many scenes where we see Ryan wanting to achieve something but he’s immediately thrust back into reality and in turn, the viewers are not having the escapism that is automatically given by mainstream Hollywood.

Does it work? I would say so. The unusual, non-linear narrative is accompanied by eerie and slightly hypnotic music that is constant throughout. A film’s score is a tool that builds up the tension, gives more narrative to certain characters and helps audiences gain a sense of genre.

The eerie music in The Center keeps the audience on their toes, suggesting something dramatic or out of the ordinary will happen as the narrative progresses. Yet the transition from loud, dramatic music through to the more slow and eerie pieces doesn’t give away the narrative.

Independent films are not for everyone and it is hard for them to keep the attention of their audiences. The Center does however makes you think about your own life and about things that you should have changed or could change at that moment and it does bring into account the notion of ‘what if…?’

Despite having limited character development, there is still an identifiable aspect to Ryan. On a personal level, I was able to relate to his writing ambitions and other characteristics which is rare for me as I struggle to connect and identify with Hollywood characters that have been usually manipulated to suit that film.

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And yet the main theme throughout the film is indeed manipulation. Ryan is manipulated into not pursuing his writing dream by his family and in turn he gets manipulated by the cult-like organisation.

Cults have been around for centuries and the film shows how people can be drawn into something and forced to behave in certain ways.

The Center has a quasi-meta quality to it: despite its short running time you’ll feel like you’ve been bombarded with deep and meaningful quotations for a whole hour and a half.

The East End Film Festival runs until July 12th

You can consult the full programme and buy tickets on the festival’s official website

Steven Brown