Something about the opening scene of “Muya” catches your eyes. It’s the nostalgia of age-old machinery that you don’t really see around anymore. The sound of the cassette player clicking open, fingers sliding a tape in, and the wheels start turning as the camera zooms in. The analog tape marks the start of a reminiscent episode as a friendly voice greets you. He says he’s going to be telling you a story of how he met Muya. And you wonder who Muya could be.
”Muya” is a coming-of-age/coming out short film directed by director and writer Graydon Sheppard, as an invitee to Adobe’s Stock Film Fest 2020. The film festival was launched to celebrate creativity in a limited setting. 13 international indie filmmakers were invited to create a film solely out of clips from Adobe’s stock footage catalog and other Adobe assets, like Adobe Premiere Pro for editing.
In “Muya”, the protagonist, filmmaker Graydon himself, tells us a story of his high school life when he was a ‘trombone-playing, musical theater-doing, ivory-tickling, figure-skating’ kid in a townful of hockey players. After feeling sick and listless from repressing his sexuality and pretending to fit in by dating a string of foreign exchange students who left soon enough, he meets Muya. He follows her to Switzerland and stays with her family for the semester.
The transition from the tunnel to the outside world as Graydon travels to Switzerland has a butterfly-in-stomach kind of anticipation to it. The pastoral consonance of the accordion and the piano overwhelms the car engine noises. The scene stretches to idyllic scenes of Switzerland — rugged cliffs, poppies of bursting red and yellow with snow-capped hills embroidering the landscape, and skiers on snowfields zoomed out so far that they look like Dippin’ Dots spilled on a piece of paper.
All at once, there is a release from the ordinary. There is a change of pace. A change in life.
The following few shots where Graydon describes what he saw and did, and the places he visited are framed with a retro color-grade, as if shot by someone’s old camcorder from the 1980s. The nostalgia comes to you in a palpable softness through a blurry, surreal color scheme. It feels as if you are flipping through a photo album from your third grade family trip to Europe.
The scenes have a light-hearted touch of humor, impelled by the inexplicable feeling of longing. One moment you laugh at the absurdity of a green fluorescent mask floating in the midst of rainbow rings and golden sparkles and the next you feel liberated roaming around Europe with Muya. Then there’s a certain sentimentality about the door closing behind you, a Narnia-like, pristine winterland slowly fading from your view.
It also helps a lot that the film isn’t self-shot but is wholly made up of stock. The reason “Muya” has such an evocative effect on its viewers is that the choice of footage that Sheppard selects is extremely apt when aligned with his narrative.
Stock footage is rarely personal and natural, but it is the very contextless-ness that helps us immerse ourselves into the protagonist’s narrative. “Muya” doesn’t contain any recurring character (on screen, at least). Anyone could be ‘Graydon’, battling through a crappy and cliquey high school era just hoping it would be over in a blink. Anyone could have a friend named Muya — the eye-opening, knight-in-armor, Joan of Arc, or any savior figure you’d want around.
The once empty, inauthentic stock has now become a tool for a shared experience.
The particular motion of wheels coming to a halt and the cassette being ejected from its player at the end of the film is especially chilling. We have witnessed the somewhat non-sequitur end of a teenagehood — as all teenagehood is — a budding new identity that has for once and for all found itself in a world of confused young things.
Written by Sophie Hwang
Watch full version of “Muya” by Graydon Sheppard here.
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