Seattle’s One-Reel Film Festival 2014 – Saturday Roundup

SIFF Film Center projection room

The One-Reel Film Festival is part of Seattle’s renowned Bumbershoot music and arts festival. Throughout the weekend, I’ve had the opportunity to see short films from all over the world, 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.

Click here for Sunday’s films
Click here for Monday’s films


Films4Families #1
Still from

  1. The Dam Keeper* (Director: Dice Tsutsumi and Robert Kondo, USA, 18 minutes)
    “My father always said that a dam keeper’s job is to keep the darkness at bay.” So says the opening voiceover, as we see a little pig begin his daily grind of spinning up a windmill atop a gargantuan dam that overlooks his town. The piglet’s father is gone at the outset, leaving him as the sole guardian of what seems to be an important function for the town. This film has a gorgeous animation style – bright, colorful, cheery watercolor animation contrasted sharply with a cloud of impending darkness that lurks just outside of view. This piglet does not have a happy life – dealing with loneliness, boredom, and bullying at school. It is with a little fox character that the film introduces an alternate method of keeping the darkness at bay – creativity. Armed with his charcoal and sketch pad, the fox can mock anything or anyone with impunity, and takes a keen interest in the piglet’s misery. This was a deeply touching film, with an arresting visual style, opening with a gorgeous watercolor shot of a windmill spinning to life over the sunrise, seemingly blowing away the darkness. It dabbled in various means of keeping the darkness at bay- friends, keeping busy, the arts- but the film’s ultimate message seems to be that no single thing can do the job completely. The film also featired a beautiful mixed piano/strings score – quite poignant.

    More info and trailer here.

  2. Cootie Contagion (Director: Josh Smooha, USA, 8 minutes)
    This is a fun, trifling film about boys being silly. The visual style is uniform, Disney-channel brightness – quick cuts, and slightly better comedic timing than general acting quality. And really, that’s fine. It functions as a very slight parody of Contagion, complete with a children-only version of a CDC biohazard lab.

    More info and trailer here.

  3. The Magic Ferret (Director: Alison Parker, Canada, 12 minutes)
    A boy at an orphanage performs magic for some prospective parents, and lo, they adopt him. It’s sweet, but there’s not much to it.

    More info, trailer, and DVD available here.

  4. Little Big Hero (Director: Nirali Somaia, Australia, 6 minutes)
    A little donkey in the woods is befriended by a slightly cloying and obnoxious little girl who names him Fettuccine and decorates him with lots of girly accoutrements, including ribbons and a tutu. The animation style is a bit odd, with the characters drawn as outlines only, the background scenery visible through their transparent bodies. The music style is very Looney Tunes. A fun little trifle.

    More info and trailer here.

  5. Spacebound (Director: Kyle Moy and Ellen Su, USA, 3 minutes)
    A boy and his dog play in space as the boy runs out of oxygen. The animation is extremely basic CGI – Jimmy Neutron by way of Reboot, but lacking the context and background details of either of those. The animation looked cheap and primitive, and many foreground elements were oddly blurry. They bounce around a tiny planet with rings, some asteroids, then…the boy runs out of oxygen? So presumably they both die five seconds after the credits roll?

    Watch it here.


 

Face the Music

Still from

  1. The Boombox Project (Director: Paul Stone, USA, 8 minutes)
    An interesting behind-the-scenes look at an eponymous photography exhibit featuring a variety of old boomboxes – photographed in various locales, street corners, subway signs, juxtaposed with graffiti, etc. Artist Lyle Owerko talks about how he tracked them down, what generational period he’s looking to catalog like an anthropologist, etc. The boomboxes have so much character, especially in an era of interchangeable iPods and crappy white earbuds. Music players of that era brought people together – whether they liked it or not – and it’s evident from their various “battle scars” that they’ve seen a variety of situations. The first two minutes of the film function as a portfolio of Owerko’s prior work, and it’s good stuff.

    Watch it here.

  2. Moving Out (Director: Sean McCarthy, USA, 6 minutes)
    A very well-made mixed-media music video, featuring a girl guitarist named Cassandra Farrar singing her way through the post-breakup process. The video begins with her opening and tearing apart an elaborate (and partially animated) album of her relationship, then ventures into a lot of other places, as the girl wanders through photographs, paintings, and CGI land and skyscapes. The song is catchy, evocative of late-90s girl-guitar acts like Michelle Branch.

    Watch it here.

  3. Flower Shop (Director: Philip Knowlton, USA, 19 minutes)
    Flower Shop begins as a fascinating historical chronicle of a Harlem flowershop, continuously open and family-owned for three generations, from the 1930s up to 2011, when declining business and increasing competition from street vendors and supermarkets forced the store to finally close, just two weeks after being honored publicly by the borough president of Manhattan. It is a deeply personal tale of Phil Young, who finds himself carrying on the previous generation’s dream and skillset (reminiscent of Jiro Dreams of Sushi), then gradually coming to terms with the end of an era, both for him personally, and for the neighborhood at large. The next chapter of his life is off and running by the end of the film, returning to a passion that had always taken a backseat to the flowershop – music/drums.

    Trailer here.

  4. Flor de Toloache (Director: Jenny Schweitzer, USA, 4 minutes)
    A brief chronicle of the struggles and impressive music of an all-female mariachi band. Good music, but not much depth.

    Band’s official website, with performance videos here.

  5. Flamingo (Director: Carl Zitelmann, Venezuela, 6 minutes)
    This Spanish-language music video is a nightmarish parody of Merrie Melodies, incorporating old black and white stereotype characters. The animation is deceptively simple, mixing simple foreground 2D elements with complex backgrounds – starscapes, ocean, etc. There were things in this video that I’ve never seen before – and that’s not always a good thing. Case in point, the main character gets swallowed by a spider (who is voraciously devouring a string of people and spitting out the bones), then pooped out, entirely whole, into outer space. Without the language skills to comprehend what’s going on, all I could do was admire the well-rendered disturbance of it all. Like Pearl Jam might say, it’s evolution, baby.

    Watch it here.

  6. Love in the Time of Advertising* (Director: Matt Berenty and David Bokser, USA, 8 minutes)
    A grand allegory on consumption, in the form of a love story between a lanky man trapped in a billboard, and the cute fat lady with glasses next door. And I point that out only by way of mentioning how uncommon a visual choice this is. Fat ladies don’t get to be primary romantic leads, and this film’s casual inclusion of such a “casting” choice (and little-to-no mention made of it) was not lost on me. The animation is gorgeous, featuring dozens or possibly hundreds of wonderfully biting and satirical billboard ads. I wanted to pause the film and read every last one of them – everything from the print style to the choice of imagery was clearly subject to a great deal of care and attention. The story is told entirely through the man’s narration (in the form of a rhyming story song) as he tries to find the perfect advertising message to win the fair lady’s heart. Decades pass, and it becomes clear that this couple is as much the butt of the movie’s satire as any of the other (entirely unseen) characters in this world – he with his hermitage and apparent inability to climb down to the lady’s house and say hi, and she with her dutiful purchases of every single thing that he puts on the billboard, to the point of her house cracking and spilling open like a hoarder nest. It’s a wonderful dark comedy in the end.

    Watch it here.


 

Ripped From the Headlines

Still from

  1. The Forgotten (Director: David Feldman, USA, 14 minutes)
    The Forgotten, or Los Olvidados, is an art project envisioned by Ramiro Gomez, an LA nanny and photographer. His medium, apart from photography, is painted cardboard cutouts of gardeners, movers, maids, nannies – service positions overwhelmingly occupied in California by Hispanic people – people like himself, who are easily overlooked and just as easily forgotten. Gomez takes this concept of temporary people out to a remote section of the Arizona desert, crafting a sad scene of a migrant family who has just buried a loved one who succumbed to the heat while trying to cross into the US – a fate shared by several thousand migrants each year. It’s a sad reminder amid the juvenile border crisis just how many people wander into the desert and never come back. Regardless of one’s feelings on border policy or immigration status, it’s easy for our limited monkey brains to forget that the others who are suffering in a bad situation are still human beings just like us.

    More info and trailer here.

  2. Marmato, Colombia. golden relics from the earth (Director: Santiago Ramirez, Colombia, 9 minutes)
    A sad tale of an intractable situation – a town full of traditional miners will soon cease to exist, owing to a deal struck between the government and an unnamed multinational to drastically speed up and technologically infuse the mining process, extracting in 20 years what it would’ve taken the local miners centuries to extract by hand. And as always, jobs, homes, and livelihoods are destroyed. This film tells a sad story, but doesn’t really explore its issues with any depth. It doesn’t name the company involved, or interview any of the decision-makers. It doesn’t really even show any footage of what it’s talking about – it’s just a string of disconnected voiceover tracks (often with poor sound quality), playing over unrelated footage of the town and hand-mining process, completely devoid of any context or connection. I didn’t come away from this film feeling like even the filmmakers understood the situation they were trying to document, and I certainly didn’t gain any greater understanding myself. I suppose it’s possible to find such ignorant and vehement rage poignant – they don’t even know why their lives are being destroyed. But I never had that reaction.

    More info here.

  3. Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution* (Director: Matthew VanDyke, USA, 15 minutes)
    Nour Kelze is a captivating figure – a young woman who speaks in flawless English about the horrifying experience that is her life amid the Syrian Civil War. This film is hard to watch, demands action that I can’t define or personally affect, and celebrates the bravery and fatalism of a generation forced to grow up and take control of their world, and accept the possibility and likelihood of imminent death. Nour speaks in a perfunctory manner about her life before the war – all the nice things she used to have and wear. Now, she wears a helmet, a flak jacket, and most importantly, a camera strap. She talks repeatedly about how ready she is to die, and knows it could come at any moment. And in a heartbreaking moment, she recounts the death of a friend, as close as a brother, who was shot to death on that very spot – intercut with video footage of the actual incident.

    The film ends with a soldier giving a darkly comedic monologue next to Nour sitting and petting a stray cat. There are cats in Syria, he says, and perhaps Americans would care about the situation if someone filmed the cats and stuck them on YouTube. And yet, even as he’s facetiously calling out the first world for ill-defined assistance, he never once abdicates the responsibility he and his countrymen have undertaken as revolutionaries. He’s not demanding American action – he’s just cracking wise and dark about the situation. And in the process, he also speculates that animals probably have more rights in America than the people have in Syria under al-Assad’s regime. It’s heartbreaking and hilarious and matter-of-fact. This is a hard film to watch, but it is required viewing.

    Watch it here, more info here.

  4. Isle de Jean Charles (Director: Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee, USA, 9 minutes)
    This is the way the world ends. With the seas rising and the land receding in an undeniable slow-motion apocalypse – with people standing around saying that only God knows when their island will disappear. This is a film about denial, if nothing else. It reveals that the marvelous sci-fi world of Beasts of the Southern Wild, featuring a vanishing island off the Louisiana coast, did not require nearly as much cinema magic as it seemed. Throughout this town, there are signs of storm damage and imminent decay. Trees poisoned from beneath by rising salt water, and withering away. Structures half-destroyed and abandoned. This looks like a set from The Walking Dead, and it’s a place where people still live today.

    Watch it here.

  5. After Trayvon (Director: Alex Mallis, USA, 6 minutes)
    A group of young black men have a dialogue in a Brooklyn park about what the world is like for them now after the death of Trayvon Martin – or what it was already like before. When the 300-pound bald man with a gigantic beard tells the camera that perhaps, pretty please, people could stop looking at him like he’s about to mug them (even as a large man myself, my first thought was admittedly “He could kill me with one punch”), the film gives the sense that even he doesn’t believe that’s a realistic expectation. And several of the men admit that even as they’re mistreated and profiled and stopped relentlessly by police, they are still warier among fellow black men than with whites.

    And you know what? Fuck this. As a white man, I won’t pretend to speak intelligently about their experiences, except to say that they sound terrible. There’s a lone skinny white kid sitting with the group, not saying a thing, and that’s how I feel watching this movie as the town of Ferguson implodes after another incident in which a young black man was killed. I can only imagine these men reconvened in the park this week for another intractable chat about the situation. And I can’t say anything to the men in this film except… That is awful. And I don’t know how to fix it. But I am listening.

    Watch it here.


Best of SIFF 2014: Audience Award Winners

Still from

  1. Fool’s Day* (Director: Cody Blue Snider, USA, 20 minutes)
    There’s one of these every year, usually in the Films4Adults series… There are those who would argue that making a film like this, featuring a class of elementary schoolers dealing with the grisly aftermath of an April Fool’s joke on their teacher, is morally reprehensible. And those boring assholes are correct. But this film is wickedly funny, and carries on with a short-form joke far longer than a typical short film would – to its maximum extent. This feels like a solid episode of South Park, with many subtle touches and gags that elevate its simple premise to some lasting grisly amusement.

    Watch it here.

  2. The Hero Pose (Director: Mischa Jakupcak, USA, 13 minutes)
    A divorcé, Joe (Chaske Spencer) and his daughter Mia (Nikki Hahn) hang out at his Missoula home, waiting for potential Craigslist buyers to come pick up his ailing car. The girl is perhaps 8-10 years old, and seems rather smart for her age, recognizing the dysfunction in her father’s solo existence. Every moment and line of dialogue in this film felt authentic and beautiful – a particularly poignant moment occurs when Mia asks Joe about the possibility of a “good divorce”, wherein her estranged mother and father remain friends, hang out together with their respective new romances. Joe pronounces it “bullshit”, but it’s clear that the concept appeals to him. This is a good day in a family that’s having a rough situation.

    More info and trailer here.

  3. Strings (Director: Pedro Solís García, Spain, 10 minutes)
    Things I had never seen animated prior to this film: a child with a disability that renders him paralyzed. This is a bright and cheery CG-animated tale of friendship between two kids – a boy, severely handicapped, and a girl, not. Her initial earnestness that the boy should simply move his hand like this (she says, demonstrating), or talk like this (“Ho-la!”) might come off as mean, if only the girl had a malicious bone in her body – she clearly does not. And she seeks to engage the boy in a level of simulated physical activity and stimulation that probably no one else had ever tried, or bothered. She ties a rope to his leg so he can “kick” a soccer ball, swings a skiprope over him and rolls him over it, etc. The film’s end credits reveal that it is based on a true story, giving it another layer of poignancy. It’s hard not to sound condescending when calling this girl a saint – what’s implicit in this declaration is that she’s getting very little in return for her care and interest. But what she’s doing here is certainly praiseworthy, even if a little sad.

    More info and trailer here; watch another film, “La Bruxa“, from the same director.

  4. Mr. Invisible (Director: Greg Ash, United Kingdom, 14 minutes)
    This film did an excellent job of making me bored and listless at the retired widower’s sad existence, which made the reveal that much more satisfying. That’s all I’m saying.

    More info here.


Tales of Science Fiction

Still from

  1. Invaders! (Director: John Schmidt, USA, 8 minutes)
    This seems like an internet-short for kids of the 90s – chock full of nostalgia for old video game hardware, and a fairly well-done visual effects demo. There’s not much to this, but if you like old video games, this is a well-made tribute.

    More info and trailer here…possibly? The director and star are the same, but it looks like a different film.

  2. The Landing* (Director: Josh Tanner, Australia, 18 minutes)
    This film takes place at the height of the Cold War – and, small pet peeve of mine, I did not need the news broadcast that mentioned JFK, Fidel Castro, and the phrase “Cold War” to confirm at its end that the broadcast takes place in 1960s (the prior rebroadcast of the 1930s radio special “War of the Worlds” notwithstanding). There’s an orgy of evidence that this takes place on a farm in the 1960s – even if it all felt just a little bit off. Perhaps the humongous barn was CGI – hard to say. It’s probably a poor mark for the pace of an 18-minute film that I found myself checking my watch by the halfway point – the film’s first half just felt like it was going through the motions. Something crashes in the field, bing-bang-boom, drunken father goes out into the field with a shotgun, bang-boom-pow, he has [something] from the spaceship hidden in the barn, and eventually his kid will see it. So…get on with it. While the film’s exposition and shorthand (e.g. An ever-present flask for the father’s alcoholism) was overbearingly rendered, the father’s toy-soldier psychology was interesting. He has an inferiority complex of sorts due to not fighting (presumably in WWII or Korea) like his soldier brothers, and he has a significant interest in warfare, who the enemy is, and so forth. While I was bothered by the first half’s slow pace, this surprisingly high-stakes father-son dilemma stuck with me a good deal more than I expected it to – and the ending was definitely worth it.

    Watch it online 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. However, outside of the “Films4Families” block, I can’t guarantee that the others will be entirely appropriate. Viewer discretion is advised.

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One thought on “Seattle’s One-Reel Film Festival 2014 – Saturday Roundup

  1. Pingback: Seattle’s One-Reel Film Festival 2014 – Monday Roundup | FilmWonk

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