Kim Moeller reviews 4 showcases of shorts:
A Short Film About Ice Fishing
This film about the supposedly routine ice fishing outing of two friends has no story except as a setup for the explosion at the end. It may look familiar to you because the film and its explosive premise was tested on the TV show, Mythbusters. The acting was mediocre and, oh yes, one more thing, the two star rating includes an extra half star for the memorable performance of the dog.
All Consuming Love (Man in a Cat)
This animated film, is, as the title implies, about a tiny man who lives inside of a cat. He longs to be with the life-sized lady of the house. There is a yuck factor given one of the ways the man enters and exits his cat-home, but it is also creative in telling the enduring story of a man’s desire for a woman.
Writer and director Zachary Volker tells the story of a distraught man’s obsession with finding his missing sister. Through a series of short dark visual scenes with “voice overs” of messages from the man’s answering machine, Volker is skillful in conveying the impact of tragedy in this five-minute film but ultimately leaves me wanting a better understanding of how the man comes to his decision at the conclusion of the film.
Friend Request Pending
This 12-minute comedy with Dame Judy Dench about two mature women struggling to navigate the pleasures and pitfalls of social networking is a delight. Judy Dench could read the phone book and I would be engaged but she does so much more in this film as she, with the help of her best friend, attempts to analyze and decode the significance of every word, pause, and LOL acronym to score a date with the local choirmaster. It is bright and funny and written, produced, and directed by Chris Foggin.
Things don’t always go according to plan for the bartender at a crab shack having a bad day after he receives a foreclosure notice and his boss fires him. The “pay it forward” premise and transparent patriotism is just a bit too much and unfortunately overshadows the strong performances by the entire ensemble.
Spanish director J. Enrique Sánchez explores the relationship between a photographer and his subject in this masterfully filmed and compelling seven-minute film. The subject simply wants a usable passport photo but the photographer, both ominous and reassuring, wants one perfect photo. Both actors give well-rounded performances in spite of the fact they have little time to reveal their characters.
Well-known actress and producer Rita Wilson stars in this film as an estranged and emotionally distant mother who discovers a secret about her not-so-monogamous son following his accidental death. As she connects with people who were a part of his life, she comes to a better understanding of him. The film,
Written, directed, and produced by Scott Schaeffer, offers complex characters as well as strong performances by Wilson, Anna Paquin, and Chad Michael Murray.
The Vacuum Kid
This documentary about a fifth grade boy who has a collection of 160 vacuum cleaners seems like a fitting subject for an article one would find in an old Reader’s Digest magazine at the doctor’s office. While the director attempts to conclude with a message of significance, in the end it is merely a profile of one boy who finds joy in his unique collection. It is a reminder of how diverse and sometimes inexplicable we humans can be.
This stop action documentary by Afarin Eghbal tells the story of an Argentinian grandmother who continues to search for the truth of her granddaughter born after the woman’s pregnant daughter was kidnapped in the 1970s by the country’s military regime. The filmmaker uses a number of different techniques including animation and live action visuals. It is innovative and engaging with real-life testimonies by abuelas still actively searching for their grandchildren.
Baffle Their Minds with Bullsh*t, Kerry Leigh
I wanted so much more from this documentary of New Orleans native Kerry Leigh who works as a street performer on Frenchmen Street offering her imagination and writing talent on an antique typewriter for tips. I wanted to hear more examples of what she writes – marriage proposals, life stories, lists – rather than her disdain for her customers and her chosen work.
A film starring a cadaver who walks and talks. With a story told in rhyme. With animated visuals. Yup…I know, sounds like a feeble attempt at originality but you really should take a look at this seven-minute film by Jonah Ansell. It is always a joy to see something fresh and this truly is. Christopher Lloyd provides the cadaver’s voice in this clever film about a man’s post-dying wish to say one last goodbye to his true love, his now widowed wife.
This short film is awkward and painful as we watch a man return his “broken” cell phone to the store. He knows it’s broken because he never gets any calls. The film is listed as a comedy but is more painful than funny. I assume filmmaker Chris Connatty is making a statement about our “always on and wired” culture but he falls short. The two actors play it straight and are quite believable. Maybe that’s what makes the piece more depressing.
Writer/Director Marcio Migliorisi says this five-minute film is a story of, what he calls, “the naive struggle of an aging woman that hopes to be loved again.” With the beautiful Southern California Pacific Ocean as its backdrop, this film gives us a snapshot of a woman who nearly drowns on a sunny afternoon. The underwater “drowning” cinematography is fear-provoking but with almost no dialogue and very little story, the film is just too one-dimensional.
We think we’ve seen it before…a couple trying to get pregnant, has a limited time period to make it happen, and then obstacles arise. But you will relish this hilarious film from writer/director and unenthusiastic comedian (as he describes himself) Shawn Wines. As the film’s tagline says, “Getting pregnant is not so easy when Mom decides to move in.” The action in this hysterical and sometimes raunchy 17-minute film escalates as the man who just wants to enjoy baby-making with his wife tries to get his mother-in-law out of the house.
Look to the Cookie
I like cookies and I wanted to like this documentary about a Manhattan bake shop that has been in the family for more than one hundred years. Even though I do like nostalgia, there just isn’t any disclosure or revelation or simply interesting material here. Just an interview with a man who is the third generation in his family to own the business and make cookies.
Nonna si deve asciugare (Grandma Must Get Dry)
Although opening with some beautiful images of Italian landscapes, the hard beat of the background music tells this will not be about this bucolic setting. The story follows a much-too-stereotypical Italian family as they tear up their mother’s house in search of the key to a safety deposit box containing a will superseding the attorney’s copy that leaves everything to charity. The unoriginal premise and bickering family members seem better suited to a sitcom sketch.
The subject of the film is more reminiscence and romance than obake or ghosts. Everything about this Japanese film set on the Hawaiian Islands by Christopher Yogi is gorgeous with time moving between the present and 60 years in the past as a dying man remembers his life in his youth. While the pacing is slow and the viewer must work to understand the storyline, the performances are subtle and convincing and the film keeps one thinking about it long after it concludes.
Why does it seem in film that every estranged parent learns some “secret” about their child after they have died? Actor Michael Sollenberger plays a father who discovers that the people who were his son’s “family” were his co-workers at a male strip club. There are some very sweet moments (two of the best include actor Lawrence Mandley)in this 13-minute drama from director Rob Pritts.
Double or Nothing
This seems like a film made just for the sake of offending and offering a twist; it offers little in the way of story that focuses on a loathsome yuppie who argues with his girlfriend and then confronts a homeless man and makes a bet with him. While the cast is made up of actors you may know–Adam Brody, Louisa Krause (from Falls Church), and Keith David, the piece offers little to redeem itself.
Everything is Incredible
What I ultimately love about this 10-minute documentary from director Tyler Bastian is that it does not treat its subject, a disabled Honduran man, with pity nor condescension. For fifty years, the shoemaker has been building a helicopter completely from scratch with parts repurposed from things thrown in the town dump. There is debate within the community: some think he is crazy and some think that one day it will fly. The film’s title refers to the man’s comment that everything in life is incredible; it’s just that few people recognize it.
Love. Tango. Vegetables. That’s the tagline that filled me with trepidation and yet, the four-minute stop-action comedy from directors Gus Filgate and Paul Miller was truly delightful. Who knew eggplant could dance the tango so well and yet be so cowardly? There are many laugh out loud moments with the vegetables that come alive.
Harry Grows Up
While I’m sure some folks will find this comedy about an 18-month old, cuter-than-cute boy trying to find love a bit too precious, I liked the gritty black-and-white New York City setting, the clever “narration”, and the performances. How did director Mark Nickelsburg get such an expressive performance out of a toddler? And where did he hide all the New Yorkers? Get yourself a bottle o’something and enjoy.
I guess I want my documentaries to go a bit deeper than this story about a silkscreen artist who seems more stuck in the past rather than the master of a dying craft. The filmmaker didn’t give us much of a “why” and I really didn’t learn or feel anything, except boredom as I kept looking at my watch waiting for the five-minute flick to be over.
This is a tough, raw drama and it’s difficult to watch as the director throws us into the movie with the first person point of view of someone being pushed to make his first kill in order to receive his teardrop tattoo that will complete his initiation into the gang. Director Damian John Harper uses a classical music soundtrack juxtaposed with vulgar language and overt violence to create a compelling tension in the story that shows that in the world of gangs, there are no happy endings.
The Five Stages of Grief
How does a twenty-something guy cope with the death of his father? This dramedy from director Jessica Brickman shows how he works through the five stages of grief first with his buddy, then a neighbor, followed by a one night stand, an answering machine and a cat. Well-acted and well-crafted, the eleven minute film kept me engaged and satisfied.
To Snowy Nowhere
This so called comedy had a few funny moments but not enough to fill ten minutes. While the premise of the road film of a twenty-something slacker who hires a laid-off construction worker to help him kidnap his sister and return her to college has possibilities, they never materialize. I’m still pondering over some of the filmmaker’s choices including the soundtrack that featured fiddle and mariachi music.
10 and 2
During a bad day at drivers ed, Wilbur, a nerdy teen with the glasses to prove it, becomes the getaway driver for two almost incomprehensible robbers with the tuba-playing girl of his dreams in the back seat. The filmmaker attempts to do too much and ultimately the film, like the car chase, goes nowhere while struggling with bad dialogue and an overbearing soundtrack.
Brad and Gary
It’s just good almost-clean four minutes of animated fun from the director, Pierre Coffin, and the animation team that brought us the full-length feature Despicable Me. The two creatures are enjoying their day when their fingers get stuck in places they shouldn’t be. The animated pair are fun to watch as they seek to solve their problem. Truly delightful.
This film about a man drinking a toast to his wife of forty years is predictable and sentimental but I loved it anyway. Stu finds himself talking with his dead wife, invisible to everyone but Stu who pushes him into asking the neighbor lady over for spaghetti dinner. Tongue-tied, Stu listens to his wife as she gives him the words to make it through the dinner and open the door to a new life beyond his model railroad trains. Catherine Wolf as Stu’s wife gives a delightful performance.
It’s just another day at the Fluff & Fold with two people doing their laundry until there is a magical moment of hope amidst the dreary lighting and uncomfortable chairs. The film shows our desire to connect in an impersonal world where people are often invisible. It’s a nice little slice of life vignette but no more than that.
Mikros Vasilias (Little King)
Socrates Alafouzos, writer, director, and star of this fifteen-minute film from Greece, gives a gripping performance as a man relating the history of his volatile anger and how his abuse at the hands of his mother’s boyfriend started him on a path of rage and resentment. Alafouzos’ eyes tell as much of the story as his words.
What’s your number? That’s what David wants to know from his partner Audrey. How many sexual partners as she had? As they discuss the issue, they air their dirty laundry in the Laundromat, natch. Some funny dialogue saves this voyeuristic film from French-Canadian filmmaker Lawrence Côté-Collins.
What’s a disgraced ninja to do when he stops short of ritual suicide because of his daughter and must search for alternative work? Funny and warm-hearted, the six-minute comedy is Mike Liu’s master thesis project but has the feel of a production from the Pixar team that made The Incredibles.
The Last Animals
While the film is well-made, it seems like we’ve seen this post-apocalyptic world before. This is just more depressing than most. It has the subtlety of a fire-and-brimstone preacher as we learn that bees are now distinct so there is no food and water for a mother and her baby.
For eight minutes we watch a Tibetan woman walk down the hill to collect water for her family and then struggle back up the hill with the 80 pound barrel of water on her back. We are told in this documentary that she does this four times every day. The woman smiles at the camera as if she, like us, thinks it is a bit odd to film her journey. We are kept at a distance and learn nothing more about her.
The DC Shorts Film Festival ends tomorrow, September 16th. Check the schedule on their website.
Find all these shorts and watch their trailers here.