The One-Reel Film Festival is part of Seattle’s renowned Bumbershoot music and arts festival. I attended on Saturday and Sunday (this time with press credentials, so no will call delays like last year!), and had the opportunity to see short films from all over the world, ranging from brilliant to bizarre, some of which can be viewed online (I’ve included links below where applicable). The films were arranged into blocks of around an hour apiece, which I’ve arranged in presentation order below. Bold text means I enjoyed the film, and an asterisk (*) means it was my favorite film of that block. Skip to the bottom for a list of all the films that can be viewed online.
A note on NSFW… Suffice to say, I saw a lot of films this weekend. The ones that I specifically remember containing adult content, I’ve marked as Not Safe For Work, but I can’t guarantee that the others will be entirely appropriate. Viewer discretion is advised.
- Connect (Director: Samuel Abrahams, UK, 5 minutes)
A brief peek inside the head of a romantic young lady on a bus. Her various imaginative scenarios for the other passengers range from amusing (an upbeat dance number) to fairly dark (a man shooting an old lady in the head for her seat). Finally, she tries to grasp a complete stranger’s hand – a scenario that might be just the teensiest bit creepy, if not for the fact that everyone involved is so young and attractive. But it’s all very sweet. More info and trailer here.
- Want to spend the rest of my life with you (Director: Manuela Moreno, Spain, 3 minutes)
This is an even quicker imaginative jaunt, very much in the same vein as Connect, and with an even darker twist. Fun stuff. Watch it here.
- Sign Language (Director: Oscar Sharp, UK, 5 minutes)
This chipper mockumentary about an advertising signholder on a street corner is utterly enjoyable. Ben (Jethro Skinner) loves the job, the ambiance, the office politics, and the historical street nearly as much as he likes the non-union flyer girl on the corner. This absurd premise and quaintly implausible world works because Skinner plays it completely straight, even as the audience is unsure whether his enthusiasm borders on delusion. Given that this is a quickie romance, it’s pretty obvious which way the ending will go, but the film revels in its premise nonetheless. Watch it in HD here.
- Love & Other Unstable States of Matter* (Director: David Marmor, USA, 24 minutes)
A tinkerer has an amicable breakup with his girlfriend, then accidentally creates a world-ending black hole in his parents’ garage. The family dynamics are hilarious, and seem to come from the Hogwarts School of heightened reality- they talk about universe-bending forces and the end of the world like it ain’t no thang. As for the titular love, the main couple and their breakup are convincing, and their chemistry nicely telegraphs their continuing feelings for each other. I almost got a Shaun of the Dead vibe as they approached their imminent apocalypse together… “You don’t want to die single, do you?”
Also – did I see the xkcd webcomic’s faux-Unix-terminal at the beginning? [Update: Yep, the director confirmed this] In fact, the film’s tone and treatment of romance felt rather similar to xkcd – science and romance were interspersed and discussed with equal matter-of-factness, with a vein of credible sentiment running underneath it all. This film was a dark comic delight, and the absolute gem of the segment. More info here.
- Blog Off (Director: Matthew Butler, USA, 5 minutes)
An online love story for our sad, cynical age. It depicts two Londoners videoblogging before their blind date. They Facebook-stalk each other, and given that they have at least one mutual friend (who set them up), it seems likely that they’ll end up seeing each other’s respective cynical, self-hating rants… But of course, in the end, they ooze matching lovestruck grins as they record a final blog entry after actually meeting each other. And of course, it’s meant to feel satisfying. But as a portrait of online dating, it’s still just a bit depressing. More info here.
- Super. Full. (Director: Niam Itani, Qatar, 13 minutes)
A poor newlywed couple in Qatar struggles financially as the husband promises to take the wife to a fancy restaurant on her birthday. There seem to be some deliberate nods to Ladri di Bicyclette here, but the film’s message seems limited to, “Man, it sucks to be poor.” The couple is also deaf, so a lot must be conveyed through their facial expressions as they communicate through sign language – and that may just be where this movie shines a bit, despite being a bit meandering and overlong. More info here.
Tasveer Presents (tasveer.org)
- Chaukaith (Threshold) (Director: Deepak Rauniyar, India/Nepal, 18 minutes)
One of the most difficult tasks for any foreign film is to establish a context for outsiders who might have zero familiarity with the culture. This film, set in a Nepalese village, takes that ambition a step further, and tries to establish two distinct cultural contexts – what’s “normal” for women of this culture, and how “normal” it might be considered by members of a different class or subset of the same. We get this cultural back-and-forth by way of a shut-in (and, it seems, religious-conservative) housewife who gets visited by a pair of government census-takers (a man and a woman). The man quickly leaves, noting that the women in this village seem reluctant to speak to men when their husbands are away at work. The film’s feminist dialogue is quite resonant, since absent any religious or cultural factors, this is basically the same perceived dichotomy between family and career that women face in Western culture, played out in the form of an extended dialogue scene. The housewife initially seems content with her existence and lifestyle, and despite the husband’s slightly domineering and patriarchal manner when he gets home, he still appears to be doing everything out of love for his wife and children (bringing them special foods they like, hugging and laughing with his kids, etc).
This ambiguity plays out visually in a brilliant camera shot of both the smiling husband and the disapproving census-taker watching the housewife help the children with their food, with their subdued facial expressions nicely conveying their contrasting views on the situation. When the census-taker leaves immediately after, I thought the film might end with a satisfying stroke of moral ambiguity. Then, in the final scene, the husband becomes a predatory, emotionally abusive monster. I’m not sure what to make of this ending, except that it definitely had an axe to grind, and the earlier, subtler material made this point a bit less abruptly. This is undeniably an effective film, but its ending, while viscerally satisfying, had the potential to be a lot more interesting.
Sidenote: I know this might be difficult for an independent film out of Nepal, but I would have liked some more thorough subtitles. It’s hard to say for sure without knowing the language, but many lines in the film seemed to be shortened or even omitted entirely. Watch it here.
- Theke Pe Kya Karte Ho? (What business here?) (Director: Spandan Banerjee, India, 6 minutes)
A documentary about some adorable kids selling their beer-bottle-opening services in front of a New Delhi liquor store. Business is good, even if the production values are significantly less so. A cute little slice of life, but not much else. Watch it here.
- Little Miss Eyeflap (Director: Iram Haq, Pakistan/Norway, 9 minutes)
A hilariously over-the-top cross-cultural rendition of the Little Red Riding Hood story, by way of an Pakistani girl in Norway whose parents are trying to stop her from integrating into Norwegian culture. The big bad wolf drives a taxi that says “Respekt” on the side, trying to steer Miss Eyeflap away from a gallant young hunter named Normann Norsk, who literally burns a bridge behind them as he galavants off with his “exotic” new girlfriend. Suffice to say, the imagery in this film is not subtle in the least. But that’s fine. The fairytale visuals strive for a Van Helsing or Alice in Wonderland (2009) level of absurdity, and achieve it masterfully. Yes, I just compared this to two fairly crappy millenial blockbusters. And yes, I mean that as a compliment. Deal with it. Watch it here (non-English site, but video has English subtitles).
- Manoj* (Director: Zia Mohajerjasbi, India, 14 minutes)
Manoj Krishnamurthy is a funny dude. His standup comedy and on-camera banter are hilarious. But when he kept getting interrupted by a bunch of useless “Behind the Music”-style interstitial talking heads, I expected to get bored with this film. But was I ever wrong… Manoj gradually shows its hand as a mockumentary, and watching various college-educated, totally-not-racist white people fumble over themselves while talking about Manoj’s comedy is nearly as hilarious as Manoj himself. Also amusing is the film’s screenwriter, Hari Kondabolu, who makes an excellent foil as he facetiously complains about being unable to tell “serious jokes” about immigration or genocide, or being mistaken for Manoj himself (who is different from him by exactly one huge beard). The tone reminded me of Louis C.K.’s biting FX series, “Louie” – dark and extremely witty. Watch it here.
PS: You know those totally-not-racist white people making asses of themselves talking about Manoj? I’m officially one of them, since, this being my 40th film of the weekend, I managed to completely miss that Manoj is actually a fictional character played by Hari Kondabolu himself. Well done, Mr. Kondabolu – that is one hypnotic beard you had. And this yesteryear (and in retrospect, pretty damned obvious) revelation only makes me like the film more.
- North Atlantic* (Director: Bernardo Nascimento, Portugal, 15 minutes)
A sad, quiet conversation between the doomed pilot of a fuel-starved Beech 18 over the North Atlantic and a night-shift control tower operator in the Azores. Well-acted and rather haunting, with some brilliantly atmospheric sound design. The night feels bleak and hopeless, but these two total strangers reach out through the darkness to provide some comfort to one another. Simple and effective. More info and trailer here.
- The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (Director: William Joyce & Brandon Oldenburg, USA, 16 minutes)
Butterfly in the sky… I can go twice as high… This film carries on an unabashed love affair with reading, books, authors, and the pursuit of knowledge. It equates them with a rich and full life, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The animation is delightful, and has one particularly clever piece of character design, in the form of a Humpty Dumpty book that flips his pages to change his illustrated facial expression from moment to moment. The film is actually available as an interactive storybook app on the iPad, which seems appropriate. More info, trailer, and iTunes link here.
- Amazonia (Director: Sam Chen, USA, 5 minutes)
The bubbly, Nickelodeon-style animation belies just how delightfully mean-spirited and terrifying this film is. The protagonist is a scrawny tree frog who’s learning all the tough lessons that the jungle has to offer. Don’t you hate it when your prey tries to stop you from eating it? Just attack while it’s asleep! Or mating! Also, your mentor will steal your food, and everything else in the jungle is trying to eat you. Good luck, little guy! This film plays completely like a labor of love (and indeed, Sam Chen holds nearly every one of the film’s credits himself) – everything about it, from the physical movements of the characters to their precise facial expressions, feels meticulously crafted. More info and trailer/excerpt here.
- Cataplexy (Director: John Salcido, USA, 8 minutes)
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before… A prostitute walks into her john’s house, only to realize the pair of them are old high school friends. Awkward!
The main character’s titular condition – instant paralysis if he ever experiences the feeling of love – feels as much like a silly conceit as it feels like an excuse for the main character to remain sympathetic whilst routinely summoning hookers to his door. Independent, sober, adult-aged, English-speaking, non-human-trafficked prostitutes don’t typically need such protective narrative framing (all Richard Gere needed in Pretty Woman was loneliness!), but the point isn’t belabored here in any case. The sheer novelty of reconnecting with your high school sweetheart when she randomly shows up as your high-class hooker is comedy gold, and very well executed. More info and trailer here.
- New Digs (Director: Martin Sen, South Africa, 2 minutes)
Hamster wants a new cage. [spoilers follow] Hamster gets a new cage.
Simple and forcibly cute, but rather insubstantial. Official site here.
- Interview (Director: Sebastian Marka, Germany, 20 minutes)
The titular interview is between a journalist and a wanted serial killer… And frankly, I wonder what I would have thought of this film if I hadn’t spent 90% of its runtime thinking it was a complete ripoff of Se7en (mystery box and all). In the end… It is most definitely a ripoff of Se7en, but it plays on the audience’s expectations quite nicely, throwing several unexpected twists on the concept. More info here.
- The Legend of Beaver Dam* (Director: Jerome Sable, Canada, 12 minutes)
An ultraviolent campfire ghost story. That’s also a jaunty musical. Fuck. Yes. The closest analogue that comes to mind is Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Cannibal: The Musical, but unlike that college project, this feels nothing like an amateur production. The music and lyrics are brilliant and dark, the editing is tight, and the practical effects are thoroughly convincing. Beg or borrow, steal or donate, but see this movie. More info/awesome trailer here.
- Waiting for Gorgo (Director: Ben Craig, UK, 10 minutes)
A British government department is created to battle Godzilla (er…excuse me, Gorgo), and remains open for several decades until a nice, young auditor shows up to find out why it exists. The department consists of two old men (Geoffrey Davies and Nicolas Amer) with some brilliant chemistry and comedic timing between the two – and while the whole thing has a Monty Python meets Brazil level of absurdity, it all seems eerily plausible. It ends rather abruptly, letting the final punchline hang in the air, and leaving the audience to ponder the confluence of faith and self-propagating bureaucracy they’ve just beheld. Not bad. More info/trailer here.
- All Flowers in Time (Director: Jonathan Caouette, Canada (Québec), 14 minutes)
This is an abstract, barely-narrative mess about frightening faces and red-eyed photos, which I found more tedious than horrifying. This film doesn’t seem to understand the concept that when your effects budget (or expertise) is limited, less is more. And the reverse is also true- the more you show a cheesy visual effect, the less it evokes the intended response. This film was genuinely unsettling, but a combination of bizarre graphics and cacophonous sound design will do that – I took away very little from this experience. More info/trailers here.
- Car Jack (Director: Jeremiah Jones, USA, 16 minutes)
Ostensibly, this is the tale of a businessman carjacked in a seedy part of San Francisco. The true nature of the film, as well as the true meaning of the title, becomes apparent only in the final moments, and it’s a thoroughly satisfying reveal. This is an undeniably effective thriller that thoroughly understands its genre, and the acting is solid throughout (particularly Mo McRae as Charlie the carjacker). More info and featurettes here.
- The Burning Wigs of Sedition (Director: Anna Fitch, USA, 10 minutes)
This film has everything, and that’s not a turn of phrase I use lightly. Fire-dancing. A stormy pirate ship at sea. A slave revolt. A massive brass band. A randy rooster. A multitude of muscular, gender-bending ass shots. And lots and lots of swordplay. Basically, it’s an extended Gunther video on steroids (perhaps by way of Moulin Rouge), with some fantastic costume design. As the Libertine might say- it’s a fine way to cap off the evening. Click here for a live performance by the brass band, which very much illustrates the flavor of this film. More info here.
Quick List: All of the films that are available online:
A note on “NSFW”… Suffice to say, I saw a lot of films this weekend. The ones that I specifically remember containing adult content, I’ve marked as Not Safe For Work, but I can’t guarantee that the others will be entirely appropriate. Viewer discretion is advised.