By Keith R. Higgons
Now more than ever, we must look to artists to see the world through their eyes because it is often the artists who hold the mirror up to society and provide us with a different lens through which to see the world. And for those artists who choose to work in the short film or video genre, their vision is crucial for us to gain a better understanding of the human condition.
The short film genre gives artists a truly unencumbered opportunity to tell their story and sometimes, they even do. It may make viewers bored or even angry, or in some cases, both.
Sitting through ninety minutes of short films last night, I got seven very different perspectives and I was seldom bored or angry. I’m not sure they all hit the mark but more did than didn’t. Nonetheless, whatever my opinion is, or anyone else’s for that matter, one must recognize the determination and efforts of the seven artists whose films I watched.
So here are the seven films I saw last night in the order they were shown:
Superf*ckers: Burger Brothers
Director: Fran Krause
I have to say this was a huge disappointment for a variety of reasons. One, this is part of a funded YouTube Channel series. Two, it is egregiously unfunny. Three, excessive use of coarse language; as anyone who knows me can attest, I actually enjoy that kind of language…when it serves the story or plays to a joke. Here it does not. At all. Four, I’m not even sure what the f*ck Superf*ckers was all about…other than sucking 240,000 milliseconds from my life.
Crappy content aside, I’m a little unclear why a short that already has a distribution channel in place (a funded YouTube Channel) would be part of the festival. I had it in my head that film festivals, especially short films, were about recognizing talent and not building brands.
Director: Yianni Warnock
With hardly any dialog at all, this Australian short pokes fun at the vacuous nature and emotional immaturity that is often attributed to men. In just 11 minutes, we get pretty much the story of what men like to do: walk around without pants, masturbate, be bored, ignore dishes and hygiene, fight, watch TV and have a singing fish on a wall. The only thing missing was a picture of Dogs Playing Poker, but perhaps that isn’t as popular in Australia.
Of course, the two guys watching TV devolves into a slap fight and wrestling match, not in any sort of homoerotic sense, just two guys who punch each other to see who can hit the hardest. It’s silly, fun and completely pointless.
Aesthetically, this short was spot on. The look, the characters, the setting, the feel and almost complete lack of dialog reminded me of a Wes Anderson film, in all the best ways. The two actors, Shane Gregory Gardiner and Peter Flaherty, resembled a chubby bearded Jason Lee and Zach Galifianakis respectively, played the roles perfectly and without their girth, I don’t think this short would have been as effective.
PlayPals captures the loneliness that often accompanies such infantile behavior and it’s that loneliness that adds a much needed depth and overall sadness to the short.
Director: Moritz Krämer
Annnnnd, this is the German art house short of the group. That is to say it was kind of funny, looked brilliant but was pretty odd overall. Less narrative-driven than the other films in the group, but that actually works in favor of the film.
Skinny model gets a break from a photo shoot, retreats to her dressing room to find that everything in the room is edible, from the lipstick to the wall. Skinny model then pulls her lower lip over her entire body and retreats into some sort of cocoon.
Eat just left me scratching my head wondering what the point was. Admittedly, this is not the first time I’ve been left befuddled by a German film so I can’t say for certain whether my reaction would have been different if it was shown with a group of like-minded shorts. It could easily just be German films in general.
The Places Where We Lived
Director: Bernardo Britto
Opening on a Japanese man reciting some sort of diary entry and then leading into a montage of demolition footage was certainly interesting. Once the animation took over and the actual narrative began to take shape, The Places Where We Lived really began to shine.
I just re-read the synopsis “A man wakes up with a terrible feeling. His parents are selling his childhood home.” I have to say, that point was lost on me. Nonetheless, there were some laugh out loud moments here because it was so often awkward and funny. In both style and substance, it reminded me of the animated series “Dr. Katz,” and that is a good thing.
Are We Not Cats
Director: Xander Robin
Imagine if David Lynch and Jim Jarmusch decided to collaborate on a short film. I think you’d find they would create something like Are We Not Cats. You don’t believe me? Read the synopsis “A welder discovers his eccentric girlfriend eating his hair subconsciously as they take a truck drive to an abandoned resort.”
Only it’s not so subconscious when, post coital, she coughs up a giant hair ball.
In the hands of writer/director Xander Robin, (seriously, if Lynch and Jarmusch had a kid, I’ve no doubt it would be named Xander) actors Michael Patrick and Kelsea Dakota shine in this quirky little story.
Director: Kai Gero Lenke
For me, this was both a missed opportunity and a messy short. I think the subject matter, two adolescent boys who know sex only through internet porn, is one ripe for satire, drama or comedy but unfortunately, The Amateurs is none of those.
Writer/Director Kai Gero Lenke clearly has something to say, and reminds me of Todd Solondz, and it could be interesting. Unfortunately, the performances are so bad here that whatever the point is it is completely lost. Lenke, and cinematographer Markus Englmair, certainly capture the barren look Solondz has mastered, but sadly, it’s the actors that dragged this piece down.
I don’t want to say this short is appropriately titled, but it is.
Having said that, something tells me we will hear more from Kai Gero Lenke and I look forward to that.
Director: Sal Bardo
In high school I got sick and was out of school for a month. My mother would drive me to the video store every few days to pick up movies to watch. On one of these trips I picked up William Friedkin’s 1980 thriller Cruising with Al Pacino. I had no idea what that movie was about until I started to watch it. It’s a pretty tough film to watch in many ways.
Sal Bardo’s Chaser is equally as tough to watch, and in the wrong hands, the subject matter would seem just gratuitous. Thankfully, writer/director Bardo and actor Max Rhyser, as Zach, are so incredibly talented it is anything but gratuitous.
Look, I could easily write an entire article on this film alone, but I won’t.
I will say this is the film in this series that holds that mirror up to society.
The synopsis reads “Alienated from his conservative Jewish family and culture, a promising, young, gay schoolteacher seeks solace in the barebacking community.” Now, that sense of alienation from his family came across, in this context, as sort of self imposed. Does Zach have a sense of self loathing? It would seem so.
In one telling scene Zach is teaching his class and engaging one of his students to explain to him why the character in his homework is a “cutter”. The student’s explanation foreshadows what Zach subjects himself to in that “barebacking community.”
OK, on that note, it seems absolutely unfathomable to me that in this day and age there would actually be such a thing as a “barebacking community”. But it is portrayed so incredibly benignly and believably that I have no doubt it exists. In less adept hands this portrayal of that community would have overshadowed the more powerful component. And that is what Zach subjects himself to.
Despite the brutal depiction of Zach’s self hatred, this short ends on an optimistic note. Which seems counterintuitive to what you just witnessed, but both Bardo and Rhyser have the skills to really make it believable.
Chaser is the best of what short films should be; thought-provoking, eye-opening and reflective of the community we live in.
Watching short films is a hit or miss endeavor and, for the most part, this particular line up hits more than it misses.
This line up screens again tomorrow Wednesday June 5 at 10:30pm at indieScreen.
I would encourage you to go. All of these filmmakers have something to say and a couple of them, notably Sal Bardo, are actually keeping the short film genre relevant.