The One-Reel Film Festival is part of Seattle’s renowned Bumbershoot music and arts festival, which wraps up today. I attended on Saturday, and had the opportunity to see short films from all over the world, ranging from very good to extremely bizarre, some of which can be viewed online (I’ve included links below where applicable). Unfortunately, due to unforeseen will call delays this year, I missed the first two film blocks. I was still able to see the four remaining categories, 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 the category. Skip to the bottom for a list of all the films that can be viewed online.
Around the World in 50 Minutes:
Miracle Fish (Director: Luke Doolan, Australia, 17 minutes) -
A slow and rather offensive horror (?) film that is nonetheless effectively creepy. Sound mix seemed occasionally off- managed to make children’s laughter sound extremely grating. Effectively captured the mindset of a lonely child in a scenario that felt almost borrowed from a “Twilight Zone” episode. Watch it here.
Superhero (Director: Hanneke Schutte, South Africa, 15 minutes) -
A man wakes up in the desert dressed as a superhero. What ensues is a sweet little tale of admiration and forgiveness. Beautiful South African desert scenery, slightly hammy acting. More info here.
Televisnu* (Director: Prithi Gowda, India, 15 minutes) -
A bizarre, stream-of-consciousness journey through the life of a young Indian girl who is promised into an arranged marriage. Following the introduction at her workplace (a tech support call center), scenes unfold like flipping TV channels with only the slightest connection from one to the next, but there is a fascinating narrative and character arc that runs through it all. The filmmaking reminded me favorably of Michel Gondry, capturing a grand sense of tumbling down the rabbit hole on what was clearly a modest budget. During the outdoor sequences, the Bangalore scenery was gorgeous (miles of rocky hillsides covered in palm trees). The director, Prithi Gowda, was in attendance, and slightly endangered my opinion of the film by veering in a “Lost” direction with her explanation (“I was just trying to make a film with a lot of mysterious elements!”), but did clarify a number of points – namely, that the film is rooted in the myth that the Hindu deity Viṣṇu is dreaming our existence. Televisnu is delightfully bizarre, and was easily my favorite of the category. More info and trailer here.
The Animated Life
Cat’s Cradle (Director: Ray Rea, USA, 4 minutes) -
I swear, there’s one of these every year. This was an uncontrolled vomiting of black and white Rorschach blots, photographs, and transparency layers set to some trippy music. Felt about twice as long as it actually was. Not quite as offensive to the senses as That Idiot Stinks from last year, but very nearly. Info here.
Dust Kid (Director: Jung Yumi, South Korea, 10 minutes) -
A cleaning woman keeps finding dust in the form of a shy little naked girl, and deals with her mercilessly. The animation is done in a very minimalist hand-drawn b&w style. While the motion was a little jerky at times (when characters walked, I thought I was watching South Park) each frame of this film was artfully composed, and the story was delightful. Trailer here.
Humpty Dumpty is Scrambled (Director: Yuriy Sivers, Canada, 3 minutes) -
A bizarre and slightly incomprehensible music video manifesto. The lyrics may be incoherent, but the anti-war message is clear, and the protagonist is a freaking atom bomb. Worth it for the strange and morbid animation style, which reminded me at times of Pearl Jam’s “Do the Evolution” video – but the music is a upbeat jazz number. Watch it here.
The Incident at Tower 37* (Director: Chris Perry, USA, 11 minutes) -
The film’s noticeably low-budget CG doesn’t reduce its effectiveness in the least – this is a gripping and poignant environmental allegory with an absolutely beautiful score (from composer Evan Viera). The film’s earnest message is about as over-the-top as “Captain Planet”, but it doesn’t resort to cheap manipulation to showcase it. More info and trailer here (film will eventually be online).
Pivot (Directors: André Bergs, Arno de Grijs, Kevin Megens, Floris Vos; Netherlands, 5 minutes) -
A fun and adept little chase thriller with a bizarrely polygonal CG aesthetic. Watch it here.
Santa, the Fascist Years (Director: Bill Plympton, USA, 4 minutes) -
Perhaps the most concise and accurate titular high concept since Snakes on a Plane. This is one extremely simple joke told well and for just long enough. More info and clip here.
Super Baozi vs. Sushi Man (Director: Haipeng Sun, China, 2 minutes) -
See “Santa, the Fascist Years”, as I could say all of the same things about this film. Cute (and bizarre) little tribute to Bruce Lee in which a meat bun fights a sushi roll. Watch it here. If you liked that, check out Food Fight (D: Stefan Nadelman, USA, 6 minutes), a history of 20th century American warfare as reenacted by pieces of food.
Vive la rose (Director: Bruce Alcock, Canada, 6 minutes) -
A fascinating mixed media project based on a song by a Newfoundland musician. Features an impressive opening shot which combines full-motion time lapse and stop motion, then delves into an watercolor-animated music video framed artfully with physical media (dirt, rocks, shells, and sticks). More info and clips here.
Best of SIFF 2010 Jury Award Winners
Little Accidents (Director: Sara Colangelo, USA, 18 minutes) -
One word: classy. I missed the first few minutes of of this, so I don’t have too much to say… This is an odd rehash of Forrest Gump – a sweet simpleton is recruited by his extremely white-trashy girlfriend to steal a pregnancy test for her. And oh yes, there are choc-o-lates. Impressive acting, especially from the female lead (possibly Amanda Fulks). More info here.
White Lines and the Fever: The Death of DJ Junebug* (Director: Travis Senger, USA, 27 minutes) -
This slickly edited documentary was a surprise favorite for me. It drew me in immediately despite covering a subject I cared almost nothing about – the 1980s Bronx origins of hip-hop, and a talented up-and-coming DJ therein. The film clearly has a great deal of affection for Junebug, but doesn’t let him off the hook for a moment for his largely self-inflicted downfall. In the end, it’s a compelling character piece and a tragic cautionary tale – an impressive achievement that could likely be stretched into an effective feature. More info here.
The Wonder Hospital (Director: Beomsik Shimbe Shim, USA, 12 minutes) -
Simply put, there is an absolute abundance of weird shit in this movie – an inflatable doctor and a human centipede, among other things… The visual style is an odd blend of CG (easily the highest quality I saw all day), stereoscopic 3D, and stop motion with some slick handheld-style camera flourishes. Reminded me a bit of Henry Selick’s Coraline, but managed to construct an even stranger world. Definitely worth a look. More info and trailer here.
Love and Marriage and More…
Dear Roommate (Director: Myron Kerstein, USA, 11 minutes) -
This film started off so promising! We see the story of two roommates (male and female) through a series of passive-aggressive and increasingly hostile notes read as voiceover narration. Their antics become a bit cartoonish, but remain entertaining until the film descends into rom-com silliness at the halfway point. The entire second half of this film could’ve been left on the cutting room floor and the film would’ve been a lot better. Well…perhaps with the final scene included, sans pillow fight. More info here.
Fancy (Director: Chris Olsen, USA, 3 minutes) -
A short dance number on a minimalist set. Fun for what it is. More info here.
The Fortune Writer* (Director: Eric Gross, USA, 9 minutes) -
A note to up-and-coming short film directors: a shot of sizzling cabbage is an excellent hook. This film takes place in a Chinese restaurant, where a man sits in the kitchen at a diminutive typewriter typing up the little slips of paper for fortune cookies. As he peers out into the restaurant at the various diners, he tailors each fortune to their respective situations. In a curious narrative choice, we only see one of these fortunes in its entirety. The rest, we have merely to guess based on their effects on the various diners. I went back and forth on whether or not this struck me as lazy writing, but I ultimately sided with the film. For such a brief period to get to know them, each of the diners felt like real people (a testament to their performances), and the exact wording of the fortunes ultimately felt less important than their effects on each diner. And the last diner is no exception, thoroughly justifying this film’s placement in the “Love and Marriage” block. More info, Watch it here!.
Non-Love Song (Director: Erik Gernand, USA, 8 minutes) -
Two male friends share an extremely awkward goodbye at the end of summer. The result is gay, didactic, and gaily didactic. More info here.
Bedfellows (Director: Pierre Stefanos, USA, 16 minutes) -
“The course of love never did run smooth… A phrase made all the more true when the lovers in question both have a penis,” intones a sardonic British narrator, as we learn the tale of Bobby and Jonathan, who indulge in a fairly unsentimental one-night stand, then decide to spend the night together. What ensues would be best described as a fairy tale, as Bobby imagines what their future might be like together. What starts out as utter cheese becomes one of the most ambitious short films I’ve ever seen… If shorts attracted nearly the audience of mainstream cinema, I could easily see the headlines this film would provoke… “Propaganda for the Homosexual Agenda!”. While I tend to not have a very high opinion of any flavor of propaganda, it’s to this film’s credit that there were really only one or two lines during this extremely over-the-top sequence that felt particularly soapboxy. All in all, it seems like the film is selling a simple notion of love and imperfect romance, and nearly every moment feels completely honest and heartfelt (including a pretty devastating narrative twist halfway through). The resulting sequence is equal parts 25th Hour and Little Shop of Horrors (think “Suddenly Seymour”) – an earnest and memorable fantasy that doesn’t take itself too seriously. More info and trailer here.
Quick List: All of the films that are available online:
The One-Reel Film Festival is part of Seattle’s renowned Bumbershoot music and arts festival, which wraps up today. I attended on Saturday, and had the opportunity to see films from all over the world, ranging from very good to extremely bizarre, some of which can be viewed online (I’ve included links below where applicable). The films were presented categorically, and I’ve arranged them in presentation order below. Bold text means I enjoyed the film, and an asterisk (*) means it was my favorite film of the category.
Best of Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) jury award winners:
Photograph of Jesus* (Director: Laurie Hill, United Kingdom, 7 minutes) -
A brilliant, stop-animated retrospective on strange requests to the Getty photo archive. Well worth a look. Watch it here!
Next Floor (Director: Denis Villeuneuve, Canada, 12 minutes) -
A group of voracious upper-crust diners sit around a table eating at a grueling pace. The food looks normal, and yet thoroughly disturbing. This film is an effective visual allegory on a society that threatens to consume itself. Watch the trailer.
Lowland Fell (Director: Michael Kinirons, Ireland, 21 minutes) -
A woman meets two brothers and finds a dead body. Then they all have sex. It’s bizarre, overlong, and really not worth it.
The Herd (Director: Ken Wardrop, Ireland, 4 minutes) -
A herd of cattle adopt a wayward fawn. Very cute. Watch it here!
Hej! (Swedish shorts)
Tile M for Murder* (Director: Magnus Holmgren, Sweden, 8 minutes) -
A man plots to murder his wife over a game of Scrabble. Based on the short story “Death by Scrabble” by Charlie Fish. Darkly funny and well acted. Apparently, there are a bunchofdifferentamateurversions of this film, most with notably bad cinematography and almost certainly unauthorized. However, I must applaud these filmmakers both for doing a competent adaptation of the story and for effectively translating the concept into another language, since so much of the story depends on the words played in the game. More info here.
Dreams from the Woods (Director: Johannes Nyholm, Sweden, 9 minutes) -
Stop-motion two-dimensional shadow puppetry. The film’s backlit, shadowy animation style is very surreal and…well, dreamlike, complete with some breahtaking renditions of water, fire, and weather effects. I can certainly recommend this if you want some unique animation, but see Coraline first. More info here.
Stig (Director: Henrik Gyllensklöld, Sweden, 18 minutes) -
A bald, naked, middle-aged man attempts to go down a metal slide. Some pretty gay hilarity ensues. And that’s just the first act. More info here.
Let’s Dance (Director: Erick Love Luncqvist, Sweden, 12 minutes) -
A homeless man loves to dance and sleeps on a bench outside a hospital. A brother and sister, mentally handicapped and heart-diseased respectively, show up. This film is redundant, predictable, and borderline offensive. It has an extremely overbearing score, and no respect for its audience.
The Animated Life
Mite (Director: Karl Tebbe, Germany, 6 minutes) -
An old lady with giant mites that threaten to destroy her home…and then the world. Shot in 35mm using a combination of stop-motion and real actors. Awesome score. More info here.
I Am So Proud of You* (Director: Don Hertzfeldt, USA 22 minutes) -
Don Hertzfeldt, probably best known for his Academy Award-nominated animated short, Rejected, presents this film, the second chapter of his “Everything will be OK” series. This film is a mix of Hertzfeldt’s usual minimalist hand-drawn paper animation and some other stylistic touches, such as the use of real-life footage, either with a low framerate or stop animated. Like Hertzfeldt’s other films, the humor is extremely dark, joined this time with an amoral and dispassionate narrator. Amid the jet-black comedy, there are some genuinely touching and sad moments. Hertzfeldt’s films just keep getting better. More info here.
Otis v. Monster (Director: Patrick Neary, USA 4 minutes) -
Stylish little claymation piece with a fun score and a good sense of humor. Watch it here!
The Mouse that Soared (Director: Kyle Bell, USA, 6 minutes) -
This CG-animated short is about a pair of birds that attempt to teach a mouse to fly. The film is loaded with references to other works, including (according to the filmmakers) music from The Third Man, the same opening shot of a No Trespassing sign from Citizen Kane, among others. For me, the most prominent reference was to Wile E. Coyote, when the birds, out of desperation, strap the mouse into a giant makeshift slingshot. This film would feel very much at home opening for a Pixar film; the animation quality is easily on the same level. And there’s never a dull moment. More info and trailer here.
That Idiot Stinks (Director: Helder K. Sun, USA 2 minutes) -
Like the Don Hertzfeldt film above, this film utilizes a minimalist, hand-drawn style. Unlike the DH film, however, this film is absolutely grating. The music is a cacophony of bangs, smashes, and wails of the damned, and the animation looks like a bad acid trip after being struck color-blind. If this film could find a way to be offensive to more than just two senses in its two-minute runtime, it would. Avoid this film at all costs.
Love and Marriage
This Is Her (Director: Katie Wolfe, New Zealand, 12 minutes)
An omniscient narrator, the future self of a woman about to give birth, walks us through the characters of the present day, including the little girl who will grow up to steal her husband twenty years later. This film was a bit of a surprise for me. The narrator’s bias is apparent from the start, but the film nonetheless becomes an artful showcase of how people can change in unexpected ways as the years go on. At first, it seems bitter in the extreme, but somehow ends up being uplifting. More info here.
The Little Blue Man (Director: Hélène Guétary, France, 10 minutes)
A “sadness repairman” wanders the park sprinkling his magical happiness powder on anyone who needs it. Ten minutes is the perfect length for a film of this premise. Any longer, and we would need a healthy dose of brooding moral ambiguity, and the grander implications of a “magic powder that can make people happy”. What we end up with is a simple delight, with a hilarious and well-acted scene involving a breakup that suddenly takes a turn for giddy honesty. More info here.
True Beauty This Night* (Director: Peter Besson, USA, 11 minutes)-
A delightfully bizarre tale of forbidden love at first sight, and I should really leave it at that. See this film if you can. More info here, trailer here.
Flat Love (Director: Andrés Sanz, Spain, 15 minutes)-
A boy starts to disbelieve in the third dimension, and falls in love with a picture in the museum. Shot in New York City, told like a children’s picture book, and narrated to great effect by Isabella Rosselini. More info here, trailer here.
Crime and Punishment
Kidnapping Caitlynn (Director: Katherine Cunningham-Eves, USA, 10 minutes)
Jason Biggs and Jenny Mollen star in this film about a girl who brings a date to break into her ex-boyfriend’s house. If nothing else, this comedic film is quite effective at showing the gradually escalating nature of criminal activity as it ventures into increasing levels of absurdity. More info here. This film was released online as a FunnyOrDie short, but is unfortunately no longer available. Instead, check out Hostage: A Love Story starring Zachary Quinto (“Heroes”, Star Trek).
Because There Are Things You Never Forget* (Director: Lucas Figueroa, Spain, 13 minutes)
Black comedy about a group of kids playing soccer who plot revenge on a mean old lady. This was a surprise favorite for me. It has some exceptional cinematography, with several lengthy, well-composed tracking and transition shots. It showcases some brilliant visual storytelling and very effective child actors. More info here. If you can’t find a way to see this film, check out the trailer, which gives away more or less the entire plot.
Thorns (Director: Nitzan Rotschild, Czech Republic, 7 minutes) -
A bizarre silent film. Starts out as a romance, but becomes…something else. More info here.
Dockweiler (Director: Nick Palmer, USA, 15 minutes) -
Ex-cons supervise the court-ordered cleanup of Los Angeles beaches. This film dabbles in some serious themes, such as how the justice system never completely lets you go, and some punishments never end. Unfortunately, it does very little to earn the character development it claims, despite a solid performance from Tony Todd as “The Duke”. The film tries to tell a feature-length story in 15 minutes, and the result is mostly disappointing.
The Archivist* (Director: James Lees, United Kingdom, 8 minutes)
Finlay Robertson (Doctor Who – “Blink”) stars as a man who vacu-seals and labels a series of increasingly creepy souvenirs from important moments in his former relationship. Watch it here!
Alexandria (Director: Eric Elofson, Singapore, 9 minutes) -
Three men are trapped in a rapidly flooding bookstore. This film does a lot with very little. It made me believe I was in a flooding building, and has an effective undertone of apocalyptic doom. It showcases some very effective character moments, despite dialogue that occasionally strains credulity. More info here.
Tara (Director: Laurence Walsh, USA, 17 minutes)
Men are clueless, and women have secrets. The “horror” of this film is simple, mundane, and rather cryptic. What’s even more surprising is that I mean that as a compliment. This film will probably leave you wondering what the hell just happened, but it is nonetheless beautifully shot (in some gorgeous vistas) and well acted. More info here.
Psycho Hillbilly Cabin Massacre! (Director: Robert Cosnahan, USA, 18 minutes)
There will probably come a time when I grow weary of grindhouse tribute films, but it hasn’t happened yet. Ignore the hacky attempts at political allegory (“We need to take preemptive action against these hillbillies!”), and see this film for the gore, intentionally bad acting, and mud wrestling. More info here. And while you’re at it, check out Treevenge, from the makers of Hobo with a Shotgun.