Short films are (almost) always amazing and inspiring. It is much more challeging to make a short film, as filmmakers have less time to develop a story and therefore must be as minimalist and economical as possible. Here is part one of my reviews of selected shorts from this year’s festival.
Have you ever wondered who paid for the Last Supper? Or what exactly the apostles talked about after Jesus left to take his last walk as a free man? Well, director and screenwriter Jeff Chan decided to explore these pressing theological questions in the hysterical short The Apostles. After Jesus gives his final blessing and leaves, Peter gets up and takes his seat. This sets of a wave of various complaints and accusations. Did Thomas eat more than his fair share of the bread? Are John’s feelings towards Jesus more than friendly? What would Jesus do: ask for separate checks or get one big bill? And where did Judas get the money to be so generous with the tip? This is a wonderfully irreverent, tongue-in-cheek look at how the church often spends its time perhaps on questions that are a tad on the irrelevant side. Chan walks the fine line between comedy and blasphemy (one which unfortunately some of my fellow audience members did not appreciate), but finds that a bit of black comedy is often the best way to expose larger and more serious questions.
Nerdy slackers seem to be getting an enormous amount of screen times in Hollywood these days, and apparently short films are not immune to the trend. Schizofredric, directed by Andy Poyiadgi, focuses on one such slacker who at least seems to want to change. Fredric perpetually wears his housecoat, can’t finish (or even start) his article on wormholes, lives in a dump and yet has an adorable girlfriend. When she finally has had enough, Fredric signs up for a self-improvement plan that sees him replaced by the perfect man. After Fredric has crawled through a strange portal into some void world, he is able to watch as this replacement cleans his apartment, writes his novel, and romances his girlfriend to perfection. Fredric complains at how much better his replacement lives his life. But of course, the real Fredric will reap the benefits. While it is an amusing film, it does not perhaps go as far as it could considering the potential of the plot. As well, the slacker who ends up with the girl and the successful career through hardly trying is getting a little old.
Many scientists around the world are giving greater attention to the water crisis; some think that the next world war will be over the dwindling supply of fresh water. Director Wanuri Kahiu’s gorgeous film Pumzi is set in the distant future after the world has suffered such a war. Human society now lives underground; citizens take turns on exercise machines in order to power their community; and every drop of water is purified (even tips are not given in cash, but water). Asha (Kudzani Moswela), a curator at the Virtual Natural History Museum (since it would seem all that was natural is gone), is sent a strange package of soil, which would seem to suggest that somewhere, the Earth is coming back to life. Asha must rebel against a seemingly repressive government to find the source of the sample. The art direction of the film is superb, and Kahiu is a smart short filmmaker, as she is able to tell the viewer all they need to know about this society is a few simple shots. This allows the viewer to concentrate on the story, rather than waste time speculating about the less important details. Moswela also conveys rivers of thought and feeling with only the simplest gestures and glances. A haunting and yet still hopeful look at an all-too-possible future.
Have you ever moved into an apartment and wondered who lived their before you? Which neighbours they might have known, or hidden treasures they might have left behind? Well, sometimes it’s better, and safer, not to know. In Joachim Back’s hilariously clever The New Tenants, partners Peter and Frank learn a little too much about Jerry, the former tenant, and the strange trail he has left behind. First, there is the nosy neighbour who expects the boys (who just moved in the previous day) to lend her flour (because who doesn’t have flour?) Then, the jealous husband (played by Vincent D’Onofrio) who believes his wife was having an affair with Jerry, and the guy from whom Jerry stole heroin. Oh, and Jerry was one of the victims of a triple homicide, hence the vacancy. Just when you think it can’t get more absurd, it does, but Back never makes it unbelievable, and strong performances by the two lead actors place the audience in their confounding position. Back uses the close-up to great advantage, as each new piece of information is thrown at Peter and Frank and they becomes more at a loss of how to react to the increasing number of unwanted visitors. Sometimes maybe it’s better not answer the door.
I’m sure we’ve all had experiences with the extremely drunk person who is attempting to tell a story or relate facts of a serious nature, and their inebriation not only intefers with their concept of the information, but how they convey it as well; which is extremely entertaining for the spectator. Creator Derek Waters and director Jeremy Konner make this situation into Drunk History, strange tales of American history told by the incredibly drunk. On paper, this sounded like it might turn out to be little more than bathroom jokes; but the result is actually extremely funny in a strangely intelligent way. In the “Douglass and Lincoln”, a young woman (after two bottles of wine) attempts to relate the story of former black slave and abolostionist Frederick Douglass (Don Cheadle), and his friendship with Abraham Lincoln. As Jennifer is telling the story, the actors lip-synch to her slurred and colloquial lingo, interrupted by questions of the location of her pants and naptime. In “Tesla and Edison”, Duncan Trussell, after a six-pack and half a bottle of absinthe, tells the story of the two pioneers of electricity. Nikola Tesla (John C. Reilly) finds himself outsmarted by Thomas Edison (Crispin Glover) in their argument over the best kind of voltage. As in the first one, Trussell’s narration is lip-synched between his attempts to cope with his drunken state. While both films follow the same basic pattern: actors performing the strangely told tale, drunk people trying to tell it while hanging over a toilet, each gives a different rhythm to the tale, presumably because of the different narrators. But also it would seem Konner recognizes that each one was exactly the same, it would become uninteresting very fast. One could imagine this is how many American teenagers remember their history lessons, and how they recite them. A very funny and in its way insightful look at how we remember our schooling.
Every child probably has memories of one creepy house in their neighbourhood that gave them immense curiosity and fear. In Monsters Down the Hall, young Michael fears an apartment two doors over. His mother goes in and out frequently, but warns her son against ever entering. In their own filthy apartment, the boy is loved by his mother but she is obviously distracted by her own problems, which quickly turn out to be drug addictions. Director S. Vollie Osborn does a good job of setting the ominous tone of horror when Michael passes the forbidden door. In one scene, Michael dreams of what might be behind the door. As a child, he conceives of a place where plants strange the furniture, people in the midst of ecstatic, terrifying torture, and a deformed man with hair made of wax who becomes the great monster to Michael’s vivid mind. As much as Michael tries to protect her mother from this monster of drug addiction, it follows them both. The film vividly conveys the child’s conception of fear and knowledge that some monsters are inescapable.
Timing is everything. In Drop Dead, a man is encouraged by his wife to try the adventure of skydiving. As he is inexperienced, his first dive will be a tandem one with the expert skydiver Michael. Unfortunately, Michael is having a bit of a rough day. First, his wife drives her car in front of the plane as it is about to takeoff; then, while unable to detach the birthday man from his suit, who must suffer through the argument), Michael is confronted by his wife who dumps him and his clothes on the runway. As it turns out is having an affair with one of the other skydivers. So Michael decides it’s not worth pulling the chute, and the birthday man has mere minutes to convince him otherwise. And how do you come up with ways to convince a complete stranger not to kill themselves (and you) in seconds? The birthday man, indeed, being attached to Michael, becomes both his will to live and his criticism of Michael’s apparent lack of manliness. Not since Point Break has the danger of skydiving been so perilous and so amusing.
Bill Plympton must be one of the most prolific animators working today. I don’t think I have ever seen a Plympton film that wasn’t amazing. The Cow Who Wanted to Be a Hamburger is no exception. A young calf sees a billboard with a very happy hamburger. It becomes his dream (much to his mother’s dismay) to become such a hamburger. In the greatest tribute to 80’s action film montages ever, the cow beefs up (pun intended) with a song akin to “Eye of the Tiger”. The cow pulls trains, lifts weights, and at one point paints the side of a garage all in his bid for the happy hamburger life. Praised by the farmers for his size, the cow finally gets shipped off to the processing plant, where of course he learns the ugly truth and sets out to free himself and his fellow cows bound for slaughter. Another Plympton gem.
For more info check out the offical Worldwide Short Film Festival website.