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Valentine's Day with Sam Dinerstein

“I just thought, like, what would be one day where people would all go out together, and get into some antics?”

The answer is Valentine’s Day, the holiday designed to uplift the flower and chocolate industries respectively. I had the chance to sit down with friend and director Sam Dinerstein, who recently wrote and directed a short film by the same name.

“Valentine’s Day just seemed so interesting, because everyone has an idea of what you’re supposed to do, and how you’re supposed to be given that it’s a holiday you typically spend doing [love-related] things with your partner. My characters are completely not doing what you’re supposed to do, I thought it would be a fun thing to play with.”

And play with it, Valentine’s Day (2023) does. The film is a 14-minute-long slice of life, opening with a clip from a beach day in 2021, starring four friends and their own self documentation.

“The first scene (of the film) is actually found footage that I took from a used point and shoot camera. I couldn’t really put a finger on it, but I got a sense of artistic merit from what these kids were doing, just filming themselves having a day at the beach. I found what they were doing, how they were acting, so theatrical – they were just so fully themselves, people you can’t make up.”

And so, the stage was set: four friends, or two ostensible couples, goofing off at the beach. The act that follows our original players is a re-enactment of the found footage, rendering the essence of our 2021 found footage characters anew in Kiki, Wade, Tyler and Lexi, four friends who embark on a bizarre double date on Valentine’s Day, 2013.

“I really wanted to write a movie about YouTube culture, like how early YouTube has affected people during their more formidable years as teens, and who those people turn out to be. I was interested in those 2013-type YouTube prank videos – who are those types of people that would make those prank videos? I wanted to write someone who wanted to be that kind of person. As for the year, I’m just particularly interested in that specific era of the Internet and how it affected people. I wanted to show those same people from the found footage how I imagined those same characters would be in 2013.”

Our four friends are just the kind of simple kids you’d picture from the year 2013; they’re not baffling in their contradiction, nor are they complex for the sake of being interesting. They don’t need an explanation, and the film’s larger motif centers around the idea of how the quotidian very easily renders itself cinematic. More than that, the artistic method of using found footage in this way leaves a dazzling finish to the film. The kids from the introduction function almost like ghosts, their spirit foundational to our Valentine’s Day lovers from 8 years prior.

We can get an inkling of what has been reshot, and what was found, but only to an extent – the level of the verisimilitude with the found footage and the camcorder footage used in the 2013 scene presents just a trace of the idea that this film is being made in the style of what we’ve just seen, with the illusion of time and history undergirding our understanding of how these kids spend their day.

“Visually, we wanted to focus on the little things that would capture the feeling of that original video. We were asking ourselves how we could translate the little things the people in the found footage did that were very of that time period into ‘8 years earlier,’ to reflect a new idea. That’s where the contrast between the 4k footage and camcorder footage for the Valentine’s Day scene was important.”

Valentine’s Day (2023) fits into a subgenre of film that I’ve seen become increasingly popular in the past few years. Take Banshees of Inisherin (2022) for example: everything about the movie is simple, and beautiful. Visually, the cinematography focuses on inviting audiences to explore the world of Inisherin with long shots that center around the landscape. Character-wise, the small island village is populated by your classic wine-os, farmers, and of course, the town jester. Plot-wise, the film is about a man navigating a changed friendship the best way he knows how. The description does little to address the power the film has, in its ability to translate a feeling simply, rather than pathologically. Valentine’s Day (2023) is a short that fits within this trope of the no frills type of movie, where a genuine point of view is translated simply, beautifully, and effectively as a part of an immersive viewing experience. These are the types of movies I hope to see more of.

Some photos from set, c/o Sam:

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