Seattle’s One-Reel Film Festival 2014 – Sunday 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 Saturday’s films
Click here for Monday’s films


 

Dance, Dance, Dance

Still from

  1. Bookin’ (Director: John Kirkscey, USA, 19 minutes)

    This film features two pairs of dancers exploring the evolution and future of a 30-year-old Memphis hip-hop dance style, gangster-walk, which has now become a much more refined style called “jookin'”, a beat-conscious fluid series of movements that much more closely resemble classical ballet to my untrained eye. There’s lots of standing on tip-toes (“getting on point”), smooth motions of toes and feet sliding along the floor, skillful spins, etc. The other pair, classical ballet dancers from New York, try to fuse jookin’ with ballet into a new style, which the group collectively dubs “Bookin’”. It’s a fascinating project, and we get some beautifully shot sequences of each style separately, but the biggest issue with this film was that I wanted more of the dancers together. It was perhaps a mistake to film this documentary entirely on the first day the dancers met, because they unfortunately acted like two pairs of strangers. They didn’t talk to each other much during the explanatory interstitial chats, and many of the choreographed dance sequences featured one dancer standing stock-still while the other performed. It was, to borrow one of their own lines, each dancer doing their own thing. The music (written by the director) is a fascinating blend of cello and hip-hop beats, and ultimately, the combined dance did come together pretty impressively. But I’m really not sure the dancers ever did.

    More info and trailer here.

  2. ME – Story of a Performance (Director: Jopsu Ramu, Finland/Japan/Estonia, 8 minutes)

    This is a fractured, self-indulgent mess of a dance film. The dancer (Johanna Nuutinen) can twist and writhe and contort her body into some very tricky and precise shapes, which would’ve been interesting to watch if the film weren’t so interested in showing off the various particle features in Adobe After Effects instead – or blurring and contrasting the white-clad dancer out of existence into the snow or fog of the background. This film is visually unpleasant to watch, and the music was constantly stopping and starting. The result can hardly be called dance, so much as a series of aborted and distracted maneuvers.

    More info and trailer here.

  3. Globe Trot (Director: Mitchell Rose, USA, 5 minutes)

    Reminiscent of the “Where the Hell is Matt” series, this video features a variety of different dancers (of all ages, races, sexes, and body types) performing the same choreographed dance around the world. All of the scenery is gorgeous and iconic (because of course it is), and there’s something exhilarating about watching one dancer begin a move in front of the Grand Canyon, and another complete it in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. This film was crowdsourced from 50 filmmakers around the world, so the variations in camera quality and cinematography style feel a bit odd – but this is a fun concept and execution nonetheless.

    More info, and watch the film here.

  4. Reflejos (Director: Jordan Jay Colvard/Carla María Negrete Martinez/Alisa Chanelle Dickinson, USA, 5 minutes)

    There’s something simultaneously aggressive, erotic, and sad on display in this film, with dancers shot in extreme closeup as they move around alternately in bed and in a park (Volunteer Park in Seattle?). A few of the movements feel reminiscent of “victim-control” stage combat techniques, with dancers grabbing each other by a scruff of hair, or with an arm around the torso, and the “victim” writhing back and forth from the simulated attack. And then the film would cut seamlessly back to a pair of women in their underwear precisely rolling around in a bedroom – together, then separately, and back again. The resulting message is not precise or coherent, but it is an undeniably fascinating performance, both in terms of choreography and cinematography.

    Watch it here (borderline NSFW).

  5. Beneath Our Own Immensity* (Director: Alia Swersky, USA, 10 minutes)

    Fascinating journey of a dance troupe under a complex series of freeway overpasses (seemingly, the north end of Seattle’s Ship Canal Bridge). The dancers begin as distinct entities, finding movement and performing complex stunts amid a field of hillside detritus – fencing sections, construction debris, etc. The music begins quite simply, relying heavily on the overhead rumble of traffic, then blends in other sounds – flowing water, billowing wind and dust, and eventually, the dancers seem to become one with the debris itself. They become mired in mud and dust, and their movements gradually begin to meld with the debris itself. A particularly intimate sequence features a man and woman hanging from a section of wooden fencing from various twists and contorted positions, then gradually sliding back down to earth, rolling over each other’s bodies, their movements always fluid and deliberate. And then the dance gets aggressive and loud as the ambient road and debris noise picks up. Exhilarating and well-shot.

    Watch it here.


 

Love…In the Afternoon

Still from

  1. The Crumb of It (Director: T.J. Misny, USA, 15 minutes)

    This film is beautifully acted, and deeply uncomfortable. A comedienne (Jocelin Donahue) and a pastry chef (Chioke Nassor) debate whether it’s possible to be in a relationship with someone who hates your greatest creative passion – he is tepid about her comedy, and she gets violently ill and terrified at the sight or taste of cake. There’s some deep insecurity (and, perhaps, manic depression) on display here, and the resulting relationship feels raw, intense, and authentic. This is part of a Kickstarter series of three shorts (titled Intimate Semaphores) intended to showcase female performers in meatier roles than mainstream projects tend to offer. This film did that in spades – Donahue’s performance is effective and deeply unnerving, and certainly made me curious to check out the others in the series.

    Watch it online here.

  2. Listening Is an Act of Love (Director: The Rauch Brothers, USA, 23 minutes)

    I’ll be blunt – I liked this film much more than I expected from the outset. It’s possible it spent too much time explaining the value of storytelling (literally as if to a child – the filmmaker’s nephew), when after years of exposure to This American Life, The Tobolowsky Files, and Risk!, I’m pretty well versed in that already. But I suppose I wasn’t the target audience for the first segment, and I’m sure some people have to be convinced of the project’s value. The film makes its pitch effectively before jumping into a series of deeply touching personal stories, rendered in the Rauch Brothers‘ Flintstones/Jetsons-cum-Flash style of animation.

    Watch it (and many other animated short stories) here.

  3. Life’s a Bitch* (Director: Francois Jaros, Canada (Québec), 6 minutes)

    A “romance procedural”, featuring a man dealing with the aftermath of a breakup. It hits many expected beats, but the storytelling method consists of shots that never exceed 1-2 seconds in length, and the result is a punctuated and highly amusing account of the next couple of months (or years?) of this man’s life (and, some might argue, downward romantic spiral). Quite charming.

    More info and subscription-based viewing here.


SIFF Fly Films 2014

This year, the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) challenged five local production companies to create a love letter to Seattle in a compilation affectionately titled, ‘Seattle, I Love You’.

  1. Sea Folk (Director: Morgan Henry and Josh Hayward, USA, 8 minutes)

    A loving non-narrative digital tribute to Seattle shipping and boating life – from the gorgeous opening drone (or helicopter?) shot of the city to the various individual boaters, to the “day-in-the-life” sequences aboard the SFD fire boat or the various Coast Guard cutters, as well as the passage of Puget Sound aboard the Washington State Ferries, each shot lovingly renders the unified aquatic world of Elliot Bay, Lake Union, and Puget Sound into something truly wondrous and otherworldly that completely envelops the city proper. The final shot, a first person view of one of Seattle’s vast car ferries returning to port, captures something so quintessentially Seattlelite – the grand feeling of knowing that you’ve seen true beauty and made it home.

    Watch it here.

  2. Fresh Pair (Director: Norma Straw, USA, 8 minutes)

    A mildly amusing look at running in Green Lake and the various weirdos you will encounter and eavesdrop on. These scenes felt just a bit too thoroughly staged, and the acting wasn’t great – the film never quite shakes the feeling that it is a Movie About Seattle rather than an actual story that happens to take place here.

    More info here.

  3. Open Mouth (Director: Randy Walker, USA, 8 minutes)

    Attempt #1: I wish I could properly evaluate this one, but the primary vocal track was not working. But the filmmakers, to their credit, gave a wonderful live rendition from their seats in the audience. Attempt #2: Success! A cute little family slice of life. The amusing awkwardness of old couples vs. teenage couples kissing is contrasted to great effect, even as a teenage boy improbably invites his parents along for his first date at the ice rink.

    Watch it here.

  4. Hannah & Otto (Director: Chris Volckmann, USA, 8 minutes)

    A cute Seattle love story – a pair of retail drones find themselves on a romantic collision course following a meet-cute in the bike lane. Well-shot, and a nice piano score.

    More info here.

  5. Secret* (Director: Tony Fulgham, USA, 8 minutes)

    Secret definitely shares some common themes with Open Mouth, in its contrast between older and younger couples, but is rendered as a drama rather than a family comedy. The various interactions between the older couple are almost entirely wordless, but reveal a level of comfort, both with their own lives, as well as their relationship, that is apparent in even cursory observation. They each have their own interests – he with his electronics and jazz, and she with her complex wire crafts – but they still enjoy a great many quiet moments together. This is contrasted sharply with the young lady next door, who is in an ailing long-term relationship with her live-in boyfriend of two years. When these unlikely neighbors finally meet, their interaction is brief and to the point, sharing a love of music and delivering some impressively subtle exposition about their respective levels of contentment with life. If the Seattle Freeze is a stereotype, this is a platonic ideal of the Friendly Seattleite. Then the old couple wordlessly squeezes hands in a quiet and comfortable moment, because for them, it’s just another nice day together.

    More info and trailer here (hey, this guy also directed the delightful SIFF 2014 trailer!).


Best of the Northwest

Still from

  1. The New West (Director: Peter Edlund, USA, 15 minutes)

    I love, love, love a noir detective story in a high school, and even as this film uses a familiar formula, it still feels aggressively modern and unpredictable. Like Straight Down Low below, this film borrows heavily from Brick, maintaining an entirely dramatic tone as it explores a dark and simple crime tale, well-told.

    More info here.

  2. The Bath* (Director: Mark Lundsten, USA, 25 minutes)

    Every tragedy is the same. And every tragedy is unique. In this depiction of a family dealing with an elderly woman (Kathleen Chalfant) with Alzheimer’s, every subtle touch feels completely authentic. Cheyenne Casebier‘s performance as Anna, the woman’s daughter, is especially strong, as she struggles in her simultaneous role as caregiver to a teenage daughter, and as guardian of her ailing parents. At its heart, this is a depiction of the inevitable end of Alzheimer’s, wherein its victims eventually have to leave home and receive professional care until their dying day.

    More info, trailer, and rent or purchase the film here (film is NSFW).

  3. Clarity (Director: Donald Saunderson, USA, 7 minutes)

    A man rides the train each day fantasizing about talking to a girl – indeed, imagines entire conversations with her (voiced over by the girl in question). The gradual, deepening sadness of this film is when it becomes apparent that the conversations are not flashforwards to a romance yet to come, but mere daydreams of a romance that will never be. There’s a fine line between having a “rich inner life” and being a dejected loner, and as the film pretty clearly spells out, that’s no way to live.

    More info here.


Films4Adults #2

  1. Aban + Khorshid (Director: Darwin Serink, USA, 13 minutes)

    This is a devastating story of a same-sex couple who is dragged off to death row in a country where their romance is illegal. The film cuts back and forth between the couple recording some sweet romantic banter on video, made even more heartbreaking after the first cut to their neighboring jail cells, as their every sweet moment on video is surely used as evidence for their conviction. This film ends exactly as it must, exactly as it still does in 7 countries even today, in 2014. The is a bit fantastical, in that it imagines that a country in which this couple’s love is a capital crime would permit that couple to comfort each other by sitting in neighboring prison cells before their execution. But even for its jailhouse confabulations that only the dead can truly bear witness to, this film speaks the truth. And it’s a story that must be told until its practice is lost to history.

    More info and trailer here.

  2. H7N3 (Director: Iris K. Shim, USA, 11 minutes)

    It may be that I spent the past week trying to destroy humanity with a designer malady in Plague Inc, but this film about a family dealing with a contagious little girl was a very effective drama for me, despite its seemingly played-out subject matter. A government doctor making house calls is already an alarmingly unfamiliar site, and C.S. Lee‘s strong performance as he struggles between his humanity and his professional obligations is a sight to see, especially after previously only seeing him as the goofy Vince Masuka on Dexter.

    More info and trailer here.

  3. White Night (Director: Sabrina Sarabi, Germany, 21 minutes)

    Fuck this movie, and its boring and ill-established pretense of wordless superior meaning in sexual humiliation and rape that springs forth inorganically out of a couple’s bedroom malaise. In the film’s final shot, the couple lies in bed not looking at each other, looking slight and pissed off. And that’s the one emotion I personally experienced by the film’s end.

    More info here.

  4. Straight Down Low* (Director: Zach Wechter, USA, 25 minutes)

    It’s a good sign for a short film’s worldbuilding chops when 5 minutes in, I’m not only on board with its Shakespearean-twinged, gangland premise, but I would happily watch an entire TV series based on it. I love a high school detective story, and Shamar Sanders‘ “The Student” is as instantly charming and captivating a detective character as Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Brick, or Kristen Bell in Veronica Mars. In fact, the film borrows a few character elements directly from Brick, even if its overall aesthetic is more like a higher-stakes, non-musical West Side Story. I’ll stop talking now so you can watch it.

    Watch it here (NSFW).

  5. EFFED! (Director: Renny Maslow, USA, 19 minutes)

    Another One-Reel, another refreshing new genre mashup. In this case, a post-apocalyptic buddy comedy featuring two guys riding a tandem bike in the middle of nowhere. Like Zombieland before it, this film has a very sweet and optimistic streak underneath its cynicism, finding great humor in the idea that people who rob and squabble with each other for resources in an anarchist wasteland can still, on occasion, be decent to each other. And it’s hilarious.

    Watch it here (NSFW).


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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2 thoughts on “Seattle’s One-Reel Film Festival 2014 – Sunday Roundup

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

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

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