It's Halloween night on a college campus. Marabelle, dressed as a scarecrow in a raincoat, lays down in the college center and refuses to move. She hopes to lie there long enough that she eventually decomposes into the earth. A stranger (Koda) dressed as an angel tells her that she's in his spot.
“Yeah, this is where I usually come to have some sort of emotional meltdown,” says Koda. “Before I died, I thought life was shit. But, as an angel, you kind of get a perspective of human life. You have eternity, so you really can see that nothing matters.”
This confrontation lays the premise behind Stay Behind, a wonderful short film by Andreana Loukidis that will be screened on Friday, June 9th at the New Jersey International Film Festival along with the feature-length film, August at twenty-two. Both films will be available on demand for 24 hours starting at midnight with an in-person screening at 7:00pm inside the movie theater at Rutgers University.
Koda explains that he a “guardian angel” who is trying to earn his wings, but needs to help her in order to get them. She says she’s pretty sure that he’s just wearing a Halloween costume.
“Are you telling me you’re not a real talking scarecrow?” he replies.
In some ways, the film will remind you of It’s a Wonderful Life, but what makes this such an interesting film is the way it has a bit of a Waiting for Godot vibe.
“This idea came to me when I was in a similar place emotionally as Marabelle, the protagonist of the film, on Halloween 2021,” explained Loukidis who wrote and directed the film. “I have a habit of using film and storytelling to process my own experiences, and that’s exactly what happened with Stay Behind. I wanted to lay down on my bathroom floor forever and see if maybe at some point I would become one with the tiles, so I wrote a film about a girl who wants the same thing (but instead of tiles she’s interested in worms, thought that was cool).”
Marabelle tries to get him to leave her alone, but he persists. He eventually tells her that he will leave if she answers one question: “If you could be anywhere in the world other than here right now, where would you be?”
Suddenly, we are transported to an aquarium… She likes fish. So much so, in fact, that she’s given each fish a name and a backstory.
“All fish have to worry about is eating and swimming and being eaten,” she explains. “Have you ever seen a fish in the middle of an existential crisis?”
When asked if she has a place she goes when feeling down, the director replies, "My honest answer is no. I would like to give you a place that is as beautiful and intimate as the shark tank at an aquarium, but I don’t have one. I probably so deeply tie my own emotions into my work because I lack a place like this to escape to in the real world. More often than not I get lost in my own head, so the little pockets of magic I have in there are where I gravitate towards the most."
The film’s dialogue is sharp and the actors have a nice chemistry between them.
“Olivia White and Nico Galloway are both absolutely incredible actors and melted into their roles seamlessly. From even the first chemistry read, they balanced each other so well and were able to give the film an almost ‘mid-sibling-fight’ quality, which I love,” said the director.
Marabelle begs for him to leave her alone. He says he can’t. The angel pleads with her to get up.
“I am going to stay on the fucking ground until I turn into fucking worm food. I don’t give a shit about your fucking angel wings or if you talk and talk until my ears bleed because if I’m worm food then at least I’m something…. the worms will love that. They can worship me like some fucking ancient god instead of some idiot who’s always fucking alone!” she exclaims.
On the director’s website, she says that her goal is to “participate in and create films that concentrate on telling relatable stories in the worlds fantasy and magical realism.” Stay Behind definitely falls into that category and I asked her to elaborate on its magical realism.
“There’s lots of subsections and jargon when it comes to breaking down fantasy and magic as genres that are used typically to explore topics that need an extraordinary component to fully realize the weight of their impact,” stated Loukidis. “For me, magical realism is a genre where that ‘extraordinary component’ is completely accepted into the rules of reality. In Stay Behind our two characters are physically transported in response to the state of their conversation, but the film never questions this. We never ask what mechanism or superpower allows Marabelle and Koda to move through space so freely, they just do. As a storyteller this type of magic lets me visually represent what I need to without complicating the plot by adding unnecessary details that can distract from the message.”
This film was the Senior Thesis for Loukidis at Rutgers University, a native of Middlesex County. The first generation Greek-American filmmaker graduated from Rutgers Mason Gross in May 2022 with a BFA in Digital Filmmaking and minors in Entrepreneurship and Creative Writing.
Loukidis hopes this film can help people who might feel like Marabelle - a situation many will find themselves at some time or another.
“I hope audiences feel less alone,” said Loukidis. “I’ve sometimes even shamed my own emotions and called myself dramatic for having them, but having emotions is a major part of being human. Sometimes I want to kick and scream and lay on the floor until the ground swallows me up, and I know that I’m not alone in that so I hope Stay Behind is a beacon for the others like me that I know are out there.”
Marabelle goes to the aquarium when asked where she would be if she could be anywhere in the world. When Loukidis is asked where she would be, she says she would go to the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender or The Legend of Korra or possibly that of Spirited Away. These are the movies that shaped her as a kid.
“I’d run away to them in a heartbeat,” she explained. “I really fell into filmmaking, it feels like one day it wasn’t there and the next it was. I’m sure you can go back into my history and trace the steps I took to get to where I am now, but really making films is the only way I know how to actively participate in the world. At least, for now.”
That’s not to say making films is always easy for her. In fact, shooting Stay Behind taught her to be ready for the unexpected.
“Making a film is chaos,” Loukidis explained. “Even with decades of preparation for a shoot, you can never really predict what’ll happen once you actually get on set - I think every filmmaker has a love-hate relationship with this aspect of film production.”
This being a film for her Senior Thesis put a little added pressure on her.
“For Stay Behind in particular, there were technical challenges that my team and I overcame, but the one example of something going terribly wrong that I always come back to is discovering the trailer of a massive truck seemingly abandoned in the middle of my most important location about thirty minutes before we were scheduled to start setting up for our day. It was terrifying. Where did this trailer come from? Why did it decide to stop here? Could it leave and come back when I didn’t have to shoot the film that decides if I graduate? Why God, why? All these questions I wanted to shout into the abyss, but instead my crew and I scouted for another area and were able to move our set within an hour or two. We laughed, moved on, and shot the rest of the film. Looking back on it, I learned that sometimes big trucks fall out of the sky and you have to look out for that when initially location scouting for a film.”
The New Jersey International Film Festival runs across two weekends (June 2-11) with a combination of virtual screenings and in-person screenings in Voorhees Hall #105/Rutgers University, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, New Jersey. Click here to purchase tickets for Stay Behind and August at twenty-two.