“Deranged,” – that’s how the Philadelphia Film Society described “Methmouth,” a short film directed by Temple sophomore Troy L. Coffee. The film was showcased in the 16th annual Philadelphia Film Festival on April 6, and was among 250 films to be selected for the festival, which the Philadelphia Film Society boasts is the largest in America for international cinema.
“It’s my first festival, so it’s a big deal for me,” said Coffee, 23. “I don’t think there are too many other undergrads with work in the festival.”
He said he hopes his induction will be a stepping stone for both future film festivals and recognition in the film community. “Methmouth” is about an unsettling journey through an abandoned crystal meth lab, told through frantic cinematography and nightmarish images. The styles of David Lynch and Martin Scorcese are seen throughout the film’s sinister atmosphere, according to Coffee.
“I wanted to segue from this microcosm
of drug abuse and addiction, [in order] to demonstrate how the drugs that were being made in this house were being shipped outward, and [how] the decay was spreading,” Coffee said.
Coffee’s love affair with all things dark and extreme dates back to his early childhood.
“I had an older sister who was showing me Fiction’ and ‘Heat’ when I was 6 or 7,” he said. Coffee benefited from this early influence, as “Methmouth” is as captivating to watch as it is disturbing and controversial.
“My film has things that go beyond the expectations of a student filmmaker, in terms of production, theme, construction of the elements and attention to detail,” he said, “but I wanted to make people feel as uncomfortable as possible for the duration of the nine minutes.”
While the film has Bibles and American flags juxtaposed with graphic scenes of drug addicts in gas masks, Coffee insists that “Methmouth”is ultimately abstract.
“I’m not trying to be Michael Moore,” he said humorously. Scott Johnston, the regional programmer of the Philadelphia Film Society that hand-picked “Methmouth” for the festival, said that Coffee’s film holds up with professional directors.
“It makes the fast paced editing sequences
in ‘Natural Born Killers’ look mild,” he said. According to Johnston, student films that are submitted for screening in the festival usually lack either cinematic technicality or originality. “Methmouth” satisfies both departments.
“The film is highly provocative in its imagery of Christ-like figures dripping in blood,” he remarked. “I thought it was extremely well-crafted.”
Coffee said he filmed in the abandoned drug house without a permit, so there was the constant risk of trouble with the law.
“It was guerrilla,” he said. “Trespassing gets two [or] three years in prison. “I didn’t want to rush people on the sets, because I wanted everyone to have fun, but at the same time we had to get in and out.”
Adding an element of gritty realism, the abandoned house was captured on film as Coffee found it: littered with butcher knives, drug paraphernalia and religious literature throughout its decrepit architecture. Filming “Methmouth” was a technical challenge because it was Coffee’s first time shooting a project using black-and-white reversals
on 16mm film.
“It was difficult because I did not have much leeway to fix stuff afterward. Either I got the shot or I didn’t,” he said.
Coffee committed 11 weekends in the first semester for filming, each shoot lasting four to six hours.
“I hope [the audience] walked away entertained, creeped out and maybe feeling like they saw something that they didn’t see before,” Coffee said of his finished product.
Jimmy Viola can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.