Sunday, December 7, 2008

Shorts on Shorts

Short film programs always have their ups and their downs and sometimes, frankly, the ups aren't quite high enough to make up for the downs. It takes talent to make a short film not feel like a commercial or a music video. Which is why, when I say I'm glad I went to three programs of shorts--Alternative Escapes, You Never Know, and Persian Portraits--it's not a backhanded compliment but a sincere one. Shorts programs, good or bad, are always a strange experience anyway since, though created completely separately at every stage, they begin to inform one another. They stack on top of each other to make something stranger and bigger. I know that's not the point and their directors probably hate this idea, but it's what I see. The tension and anxiety I associate with a train in one short overtakes me when I see a completely innocent train in a new film. Maybe these are just the wanderings of a tired, image saturated mind; I've also mistaken several filmic conversations, meals, and awkward moments for episodes in my own, I can't believe I ate that chicken drummy! Oh, I didn't. Yes, on this the last day of the marathon, things are getting nutty. I'll try and sort through the madness and dish out some highlights of these shorts programs:

This year's Alternative Escapes, a collection of shorts from around the world, includes the charming Hold On by Damien Roussineau, which manages to be funny and dramatic in its few minutes without feeling overwrought and has an inspired lead performance. Skeletons in the Closet by Ulrik Frieberg takes on the task of making a 12 minute joke and succeeds. The wacky, the zany Vanity Insanity by Yakov Levi will definitely wake you up if you happened to have dozed off. The timing and humor in this short is the stuff of hip-irony masters like Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job and Flight of the Conchords but, quite refreshingly, seems to have no idea. Above all, it's not afraid to GO THERE...and by THERE I mean having wild whip-creamy sex with a giant mirror.

You Never Know, a program of shorts by primarily female directors, proved equally entertaining. In Dirty Girl, Jennifer Clary gives us an account of breast cancer that will make you laugh and wince at the same time. A surgeon repeatedly slices into a patient and we travel inside the body to a cancer-ridden, claymation world. It's awesome. These little clay bastards have teeth! And, for anyone who's had something internal go totally haywire, these stealth monsters munching away on organs feels like a very familiar concept put to the perfect visual. Bill Block's The Drummer is endlessly endearing. A guy who looks like the sweetest of basset hounds turns 40 and finally gets a drumming gig which turns out for the best, making the audience very, very happy. I loved David Grainger's George and Karl because it bit off a small bite and did it incredibly well. This tasty bite includes our homeless protagonists sleeping under matching semi-trucks, except the semis are painted on a wall behind them--a great illusion. Our beloved George and Karl also trade a bite of a sandwich for a swig of whiskey...for a pair of dentures. It's good. Havdalah, Alyson Silverman's film, comes through in a big way as well--nothing like telling your husband to eff-off by learning how to ride a bike. Finally, Laura Newman's loony movie Sexy Clown Bitch took me on a ride I won't soon forget. Though, I have to say, the best part of the film was after it had ended when a film festival worker from the back of the theater asked if Laura Newman could please report to the theater lobby. This prompted the entire audience to go, "ooooohhhhhhhhh," in that perfect grade-school way. This, in turn, prompted Laura Newman who was running down the isle to yell, "What!?!, Too Bitchy?!?! Too Sexy!?!?". Since this is the only time I'll probably get to say it, I'll conclude by saying Sexy Clown Bitch is right up my alley.

Persian Portraits was short but sweet. Slap by Ehsan Amani provided another one joke wonder of a film that left the audience howling and clapping. On the Railroad by Mohammad Sufi builds enough anxiety in 10 minutes to last an entire film festival...Just please stop almost getting hit by trains! And, lastly, Peyman Nahan Ghodrati's Cold Dream follows an Iranian tradition of simple tragedies unfolding slowly and quietly. One of my favorite things about this style of New Iranian Cinema is its ability to make you root for a little boy finding his shoes or a woman to get to her friend's house as if it were an epic Hollywood battle between good and evil. Cold Dream reaches these heights with a simple wheel stuck in the snow debacle.

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