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 bunch of different amateur versions 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.