Film Review: Shadowstar Returns

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Filmmaking is a wild process, and James McKenzie offered an interesting perspective on how he went about creating his thesis film, Shadowstar Returns. Inspired by the daringness of Jordan Peele’s, Get Out and the wildly imaginative storytelling of Marvel superhero films, McKenzie chose to tell a story that plays with reality based in fantasy.

Shadowstar Returns takes place in a nondescript urban neighborhood, with a slight twist; this neighborhood, once watched over by the masked vigilante, Shadowstar, has now since been abandoned. This short film follows Kieran and his best friend as they choose between being the hero, and doing the right thing.

When in the writing process, McKenzie had two central questions on his mind: “who are these people, and why do they make these decisions?” From a writing perspective, there couldn’t be two better questions to ask. Answering these questions in every scene, in every line of dialogue that you write, will show you the story your film is trying to tell. With a love and admiration for the amazingly successful Marvel movies lately, McKenzie quickly found where he fits in as a filmmaker. “I wanted a super movie, that tackled real life topics.” He wanted something fantastical that grounded in reality, and that’s exactly what he got.

Shadowstar Returns works on many levels. The storytelling is remarkable, the editing is engaging and the shot composition, as with much of McKenzie’s work, is visually stunning. McKenzie mentioned that he “feels a social responsibility to talk about things as they are,” and that couldn’t be more clear throughout this film.

McKenzie had been brewing this concept for years, and exactly one year ago today he had wrapped his production. In creating this short film, McKenzie wore many different hats, balancing carefully his role as a writer, director and editor.

Creating a film is a tremendously collaborative project. “As a director, you have to recognize the strength of everyone around you,” he said. After watching creative input flow in from cast and crew, the feeling of making something together with other creative people overcame him. “It’s not just about me, it’s about the project,” McKenzie said with a laugh. We talked about how amazing it is to see a project come to life. From the inception of an idea, to the color correction (which he did himself) the film would have never been possible without everyone who contributed.

Besides his work as a renaissance man on his thesis film, McKenzie is also well known in the Film Department as a remarkably talented cinematographer, having worked on many different student films.

Shadowstar Returns will feature at the Brooklyn College Film Festival and then will make its run around the festival market. McKenzie is eager for audiences to see his breakout short film, and believes that the Shadowstar Returns story is far from over. Be sure to catch the screening of this thesis film, along with many others on May 31 at the Brooklyn College Film Festival.

To keep up with the film, and to contact James McKenzie about this project, or others, check out Shadowstar Returns on Facebook.

For questions, comments, concerns or just to chat, email me at or find me on twitter @FamularoDom.

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