Seattle’s One-Reel Film Festival 2013 – 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

Films4Families #2

  1. Snap (Director: Thomas G. Murphy, Belgium, 6 minutes)

    There’s nothing new under the sea, but this is enjoyable nonetheless. The film is equal parts Kung Fu Panda and Looney Tunes. An underwater gremlin learns to hunt in a different way with the help of…an underwater frog. It’s zany, and a bit forgettable, but fun for a moment.

    Trailer here.

  2. The Mole at the Sea (Director: Anna Kadykova, Russia, 5 minutes)

    Crowded beaches are not fun. This is the point the film ably makes, and it does so with a sea of grotesque humanity (or at least human-looking animals). The animation is unique, and quite a throwback – it falls somewhere between 1960s Charlie Brown specials and JoeCartoon. The mole is frankly adorable, and watching him “swim” around through the sand to find an enjoyable spot on the beach is most entertaining.

    Watch online here.

  3. Hedgehogs and the City* (Director: Evalds Lacis, Latvia, 10 minutes)

    This delightfully subversive stuffed animal stop-motion begins as Over the Hedge, wherein an animal habitat is taken over by human development. Then it becomes…something else entirely. According to the film’s environmental and consumerist satire, the best recourse for an eclectic collection of animals (including a drunken moose) is to rise to the top of the food chain in a new way. Great fun.

    More info and teaser here.

  4. Hannah and the Moon (Director: Kate Charter, UK, 6 minutes)

    Now that’s more like it. Like yesterday’s “The Window”, this film takes place inside the pages of a children’s book – but the pencil-drawn animation is gorgeous and elaborate, and the simple story is nonetheless deeply affecting. This is the tale of a lonely girl whose mother is too busy to talk, so she talks to the moon instead. The book’s narration is revealed one word at a time (making this almost a “Reading Rainbow” exercise for younger audience members) as Hannah navigates the world. Sometimes words follow her climbing the stairs, or fly through the air – and sometimes, they literally leap off the page.

    More info here, trailer here.

  5. The Goat Herder and His Lots and Lots and Lots of Goats (Director: Will Rose, UK, 7 minutes)

    If Nintendo’s Mario character were reimagined as a goatherder, rendered in silhouette at magic hour, it might look something like this. This beautiful 2D platformer short is very video-gamey (seemingly on purpose), and even contains a twist that will be familiar to modern gamers, wherein the player’s efforts are rendered unnecessary. Quite fun – and the goats rhythmic chomping was very catchy.

    Watch online here.

  6. Blue (Director: Asia Lancaster/Katelyn Bianchini/Rena Cheng, USA, 8 minutes)

    A bright blue balloon is terrified of being popped by humans. This film gets occasionally elaborate with the limited visual tools at its disposal, but the animation is incredibly simplistic, and its human characters look downright grotesque. Given the balloons’ quite reasonable fears during the first half of this film, this uncanny valley look makes sense, but given the emotional connection the film attempts to cultivate with a young boy by the end, I can’t help but think that it was not deliberate. The film’s end credits sequence contained a jarringly upbeat song – easily one of the most obnoxious sunshine pop ballads this side of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Not a wise choice for tonal consistency when the film’s last scene takes place in a cemetery full of mourners.

    More info here.

Dance, Dance, Dance

  1. Ballet (Director: Sajid Dilawar/Gunja Bose, India, 2 minutes)

    It’s hard to impress me with “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies”, if only because I’ve seen it so many different ways. But this elegant and simplistic animation managed to do so once again. The faux film-grain and sepia tones evoke a prototypical film projection, and the effect is a captivating study in movement.

    Watch online here.

  2. Still Moving: Pilobolus at Forty* (Director: Jeffrey Ruoff, USA, 38 minutes)

    A creative endeavor – particularly one that began as a collaborative project between college students – is lucky to last a few years, much less four decades. This modern dance company’s story is remarkable, and yet familiar to me personally, as the company’s history, ideology, and public classes feel very much like an improvised theatre company that I’m involved with. The medium is unique, but the message is quite similar.

    The company’s style features choreographed dance routines with human bodies initially walking in unison, but then meshing and wrapping together into unique shapes and transformations – often with limited clothing. All in all, the company’s longevity seems best attributed to its extreme adaptability. The film features a 2010 collaborative mixed media performance with a comic book artist, wherein the dancers perform in silhouette behind a rear projection screen, interacting with the changing graphics in real time. For a ragtag band of 1970s Dartmouth students, this seems a significant evolution of the company’s style.

    The only thing that gives me pause about this film is that it is functionally an advertisement for the company, as well as a memorial piece for the company’s late co-founder (who is featured in the film, and has passed away recently as of the film’s release). On the face of it, it is unlikely that this is an unbiased, “warts and all” portrayal of the company’s history. Several of the company’s founders have also left since its inception, and it was clearly in a period of transition and uncertainty when the film was made. But what I can’t argue with is the unique and valuable artistic endeavor that is on display here. Pilobolus is a thriving arts company, and on that level they have my respect. The film acknowledges that losing one of its co-founders will be the next great challenge to the organization’s survival – surely to be followed by other departures as the years go on. But like the bovine dungborne fungus for which it is named (I bullshit you not), this company seems adaptable. And messy.

    More info and trailer here.
    Watch 26 members of Pilobolus squeeze into a Mini Cooper here.

Love…In the Afternoon

  1. Side Effects* (Director: Traven Rice, USA, 20 minutes)

    This film is quite riveting, even if it’s a bit difficult to discern its intention. It functions as a dark and somewhat demented version of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, wherein the film’s central love story may be little more than a construction in the main character’s mind. Alena (Carla Quevedo, The Secret in Their Eyes) is part of a drug trial whose side effects include a series of lucid (and narratively connected) dreams, complete with a Hot Dream Guy on the beach. Her love interest (Robert Beitzel) is a bit of a cypher, mainly because we never see him speak. Their communication in the dream is solely in the form of voiceover dialogue (some of which was made while pretending to breathe underwater, which must’ve been a bitch of an acting challenge). This doesn’t especially diminish the effectiveness of their romance, but it does make it almost entirely dependent on Quevedo’s performance.

    Alena spends the majority of the film in the Saw-like environment of a windowless hospital room as frigid medical personnel administer dose after dose of unknown medications. It’s all very unpleasant, and Quevedo does an admirable job of both conveying Alena’s inner plight and eliciting audience sympathy. I almost wish the film had not relied on Alena’s letters home to expose her inner turmoil – the actress was doing a fine job on her own, and the letters (which receive no response) do little but add to the film’s already ever-present paranoia.

    All in all, the ending is a little obvious, but it reveals just enough about the intended purpose of the drug trial without making every detail clear. This may well just be mad science at work, or it could just as easily be a deleted scene from the first act of Inception. Whatever is going on here, it brings more than enough intrigue to the table, and one bravura performance.

    More info here.

  2. Taboulé (Director: Richard Garcia, Spain, 4 minutes)

    Modern technology has done a wonderful job of creating “trust opportunities” for couples – this film tackles the conversation that ensues when a man asks his boyfriend (for no reason whatsoever) to share his mobile PIN. They hang out on a rooftop together, and debate the ever-changing definition of trust. Simple and sweet.

    Trailer here.

  3. A Little Something on the Side (Director: Stephen Tobolowsky, USA, 14 minutes)

    Stephen Tobolowsky had a triple heart bypass last year (something he has been quite open about on his storytelling podcast). I don’t know whether knowing that in advance made me enjoy this film more, but it certainly didn’t hurt. The film plays a delightful bait-and-switch with a very obvious joke, taking “this isn’t what it looks like” to absurd new heights, and having a great deal of fun with its bad behavior. Most enjoyable.

    More info here, Twitter here.

  4. Dream Girl (Director: Tulica Singh, USA, 6 minutes)

    It’s become easier for my mind to drift further away from heteronormativity the more of these tales of something-other-than-straight romance I see. On the face of it, this isn’t merely a low-budget, reasonably well produced tale of unrequited love – primarily, it just made me ponder the social engineering task that is recognizing viable romantic partners who happen to share your sexual orientation. As a straight male (recalling my single days), it was easy for me to take for granted that if a lady doesn’t respond to my advances, it was likely because she didn’t find me specifically attractive, not my entire sex. Laura, the dreamer, is forced to contend with the possibility that the girl of her dreams not only doesn’t know she exists (or at least doesn’t know her name), but that she might never be interested in her romantically. If that situation is half as difficult to parse as my gendered pronoun use in the previous sentence, I don’t envy her task.

    More info here.

Best of SIFF – Audience Award Winners

  1. Spooners (Director: Bryan Horch, USA, 14 minutes)

    This film’s thesis seems to be that progressive acceptance of same-sex marriage has reached the point where it can be hilariously grating to the actual couples. In a world where same-sex marriage (as of this writing) is still illegal in 37 states, this filmmaker still manages to find comedy in the suspiciously well-timed corporate acceptance of former social taboos. The majority of the film takes place inside a mattress store called “Drowzy’s”, featuring a “smart bed” that is just a little too happy to see its first gay couple shopping for a mattress. Corporations are amoral entities, and calling attention to their propensity for becoming socially liberal as soon as the market dictates is spot-on satire. The crowd of white liberals crowing about how they’ve heard terms like “bear” and “otter” on NPR is just the icing on the cake. That’s tolerance in a nutshell. Most people are well-meaning, nice, and just a little bit full of shit. Well done, sirs.

    Watch online here.

  2. Malaria (Director: Edson Shundl Oda, Brazil, 6 minutes)

    A well-executed gimmick requires a story that would be compelling even without it. This story, of a man hiring a mercenary to kill Death, certainly qualifies. The story is told in what I can vaguely refer to as a motion comic, but featuring human hands turning over each gorgeous pencil-drawn and shaded frame, and a knife-blade sliding in to reveal each line of dialogue. This technique is augmented with physical effects as we hear the scene play out in [Portugese] voiceover. It’s a clever premise, and the technique makes it visually captivating.

    Watch online here.

  3. Fora (Director: Ayuub Kasasa Mago, Rwanda, 7 minutes)

    A conundrum for an American film critic: How do I judge an up-and-coming third-world film production without being patronizing or mean, or tolerating mediocrity? If you have an answer, you’re a better person than me. This is the only Rwandan film I’ve ever seen, so I have no qualitative basis for comparison. But on the face of it, the story is not terribly compelling and the filmmaking technique is pretty rudimentary. But while these are not trained actors (and it shows), they are decent filmmakers with the tools at their disposal. The lighting and cinematography are solid in both the indoor (fairly dim) home, as well as the Kigali city overlooks. This is a simple tale of brotherly love and forgiveness featuring what might be an actual father and son pairing (two of them have the same last name). It’s an old, simple story, which resonates a bit. But is it good? Hell if I know.

    More info here.

  4. Good Karma $1 (Director: Jason Berger/Amy Laslett, USA, 15 minutes)

    In this documentary, a pair of ad executives attempt to find the most successful slogans for the homeless to use on cardboard panhandling signs. These guys are no Don Draper, but they are slick and chock full of wistful, vaguely inspiring, mildly pretentious ideas. The client to whom they must present their ideas is a homeless man with dreadlocks (a wonderful character unto himself) who rightfully thrashes them, saying the men have clearly never been homeless. And if this film were merely pretentious and well-meaning, it might have been grating. But it carries a sense of optimism about the spirit of generosity that is genuinely contagious. If you give a homeless man a dollar, sure- he might buy a beer with it. But you’ve still made him happy, and were you really guaranteed anything more than that once the money changed hands?

    Trailer here.

  5. Noodle Fish* (Director: Jin-man Kim, South Korea, 10 minutes)

    Noodle Fish features the fruitless existential musings of fish in the sea speculating about the air-world above the waterline. In its own rite, this would be a smart piece of existential satire- but this film takes it a step further with some of the most brilliant and unconventional stop motion animation this side of Don Hertzfeldt. The entire story is rendered in noodle flour. Depressions and sculptures, fish, seaweed, sand, and waves…made of noodle flour. The film is 10 minutes long, and it boggles the mind to think how long it must have taken to produce. The technique is absolutely flawless, and is every bit as brilliant a piece of film craftsmanship that a smart script like this deserves. And man is it funny.

    Update: Watch it in full here!

Films4Adults: Neither Here Nor There

  1. Presence Required (Director: Maria Gordillon, Spain, 12 minutes)

    A couple experiences empty nest syndrome when their household ghost Sebastian goes missing. What this film brilliantly captures is the magical realism of everyone having the same skewed sense of morality. In this world, death is not the least bit tragic, and no house is complete without a ghoul to call its own. The actors convey this warped reality brilliantly as they painstakingly interview potential replacements.

    Trailer here.

  2. No Beers for Bradley (Director: Julian Doan, USA, 10 minutes)

    Speaking of a skewed sense of morality, here’s a demented fairy tale about a drunken rampage, told as a bedtime storybook to a precocious little boy dying of ebola. This film is a mean drunk. It is definitely being offensive and gory just for the sake of it (much like one of last year’s selections), which works just fine as long as everyone is entirely committed to the bit. And everyone is – even the little nosebleeding kid.

    Trailer here.

  3. Dosa Hunt (Director: Amrit Singh, USA, 22 minutes)

    Seven friends – six Indians and one Mexican – hunt around New York City for a South Indian crepe dish called dosa, set to an enjoyable soundtrack from their various bands (they are all members of the indie music scene, including Vampire Weekend, Yeasayer, Das Racist, and others).

    I could utter some very pretentious phrases about this film. “Primer on Indian-American culture” definitely came to mind. The film does a solid job of making the point that what we call “Indian food” in the US (ditto Chinese food, Mexican food, etc.) is really from one small area of India, and there is plenty of other food from elsewhere in such a huge country that individual countrymen might have never tried. It’s a point that seems pretty obvious (how many regional dishes are there in the US?), but the film makes it well.

    Unfortunately, the other pretentious phrase that came to mind was “Meandering foodie tour”. I was mildly entertained by this (and felt like tracking down some dosa afterward), but the pacing and structure felt entirely too loose. Certain threads led nowhere – we see them shop at an Indian grocery for ingredients and a pan to make their own dosa. They buy the stuff, but they never actually go through with the cooking. The myriad detours and delays on the hunt seemed to be more entertaining to the group themselves than anyone watching. And don’t get me wrong; that sense of fun was mildly infectious. If you watch a group having fun, you can’t help but feel like you’re having fun as well. But it probably could’ve been done in half the time.

    More info and trailer here.

  4. Five Years* (Director: Durier Ryan, USA, 14 minutes)

    Pop quiz, hotshot. Is it racist for me to find it jarring to see a teenage Justin Bieber-looking kid getting out of jail on probation? Is there any combination of appearance-based adjectives that I can string together which won’t normatively imply that an attractive, white delinquent is somehow…unusual? Whatever combination of prejudices led me to this conclusion, I did not find this character intimidating in the least, and I think that might be what makes him so effective. We never find out his crime (although he does tell us it’s none of our fucking business), but we do know he is wearing an alcohol-monitoring ankle bracelet, he’s not allowed to drive, and he’s not allowed to leave Brooklyn. And naturally, the very day that he gets out of jail, every one of these constraints is challenged, and he is forced to make some very grown-up (and possibly very stupid) decisions about what’s right and wrong in his life.

    This is a solid dramatic film. Like The Wire before it, it sets up a captivating world on the streets in a short space of time, and makes you feel the weight of the characters’ histories in every interaction before you really get to know any of them. The casting of this film was spot-on, especially that of the lead.

    More info here. Some of the director’s other films here.

  5. Magma (Director: Pawel Masiona, Poland, 30 minutes)

    This film made me twitchy with anticipation, and not in a good way. It chronicles the existential dread and creeping insanity of a furniture salesman at the dawn of middle age. At least, I’m pretty sure that’s what’s going on here. From the way the sets get rearranged and the music gets extra plunky at the end, there may have been a twist ending so subtle that I completely missed it. At all times, this film seems to be building to something. The main character seems deeply tortured by his existence, and there seems to be a distinct reason why. That reason is never revealed. If conveying the neverending chore that is this man’s existence was the sole objective of this film, then I say to the filmmaker, bravo.

    More info here.

Quick List: All of the films that are available online:

Seattle’s One-Reel Film Festival 2013 – 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

  1. The Collector’s Gift (Director: Ryan Kravetz, USA, 9 minutes)

    This film imagines a Darwinian voyage wherein a single eccentric scientist seeks to collect and catalog every element on the periodic table. A young girl discovers the fruits of his labor shortly after his demise. The animation is elaborate, but uneven – some of the motion looks downright anomalous, particularly when characters are jumping through the air. But all in all, the production value of this USC student film is quite high, and it is a fun and elaborate world that has been imagined here. What’s more, it presents quite a positive message about the value of scientific discovery to the progress of the human race. And as the icing on the cake, the film managed to carry off these themes without a single line of dialogue in the entire film. And it didn’t give me time to ponder the potential danger of a tiny glass bottle of uranium.

    More info here.

  2. Sweetly Broken (Director: Chung Lam, Czech Republic, 6 minutes)

    It is an unfortunate artifact of my love of short film that I’ve seen several versions of this idea already. Two inamimate objects (in this case, wooden marionettes) fall in love, causing trouble for their owners. The soundtrack featured some interesting plucky chords, but I was mostly just waiting for it to be over. Blame Pixar for ruining this one for me twice over – first (kinda) with paper airplanes, then much worse with umbrellas.

    More info here.

  3. Uski Baarish (Director: Archana Phadke, India, 5 minutes)

    A delightful tale of a brother and his little sister hanging out. They navigate the streets of an unnamed Indian city and partake in a hobby involving dangerous-looking spinning tops (that suspiciously resemble lawn darts), homemade umbrella making, and some good-natured sibling roughhousing. This is a cute and personal tale, although it makes a few bizarre musical choices. Cutting elaborately between vaguely U2-like guitar themes and classical violin was a bit jarring, but none of it was too distracting.

    More info here.

  4. The Window (Director: Camille Müller, Switzerland, 5 minutes)

    Alternated between pencil sketch and watercolor. Ostensibly, this is a tale that takes place inside the illustrated pages of a children’s book – which, itself, contains an illustrated children’s book. There’s really not much else to it – this is a simple tale of two kids fending off some older bullies. Perhaps suitable for very small audiences.

    Trailer here.

  5. Fox and the Chickadee* (Director: Evan DeRushie, Canada, 8 minutes)

    A brilliant reimagining of the “Frog and the Scorpion” fable (which I thought was from Aesop, but apparently has more complicated origins), wherein a clever little chickadee negotiates with a vicious (British) fox. Easily the best animation in the bunch, and apparently mastering one style – stop motion with felt and fur, in the vein of The Fantastic Mr. Fox – wasn’t enough. The film also features a sequence made entirely of precision-crafted 2D paper dolls. Both styles are brought beautifully to life, and the story is quite a clever (and delightfully dark) twist on the classic tale.

    More info and trailer here.

  6. Macropolis (Director: Joel Simon, UK, 7 minutes)

    Shot during the 2012 London Olympics, this film features a pair of claymation dolls navigating the crowded and bustling city. As the dolls move along precisely, one frame at a time, the bustling metropolis of London continues at full speed in the background. The film takes on a curious meta aspect as the audience wonders whether the various people and vehicles (who are pervasive, albeit for an instant at a time) interfered substantially with the film production. The sidewalks and streets look as full as can be, and one can only imagine the dire effects of an errant boot or wheel upon one of these cute little dolls. As for their journey, it’s pretty much Toy Story. Very cute.

    More info and trailer here.

Music Video Madness

  1. Fanfare for Marching Band (Director: Daniele Wilmouth, USA, 16 minutes)

    Is there such a thing as marching band propaganda? This film posits the existence of the elusive “quiet-playing” marching band. The music feels unrealistically subdued throughout the film, and the volume peaks sufficiently by the end that it must have been a deliberate choice. The formula is, in short, “public space + marching band = fun”. But I’ll hazard a guess that most of the grocery shoppers or attending train passengers would’ve preferred the performance ended in fewer than 16 minutes. This film had its moments, but I definitely grew tired of it with more than half of its runtime remaining, which left me plenty of time to ponder just how deafening that phalanx of trombones would be inside of a grocery store produce section.

    More info here.

  2. Upon Your Shoulders (Director: Ben Rapson, USA, 6 minutes)

    I don’t envy the husband’s acting task. Set to a song that is 90% choral requiem, this video features a man agonizing over his impending fatherhood. His acting style, featuring broad facial movements (à la Jim Carrey or Ed Helms) seems better suited to comedy than drama. And yet, as his backstory (which is necessarily conveyed without dialogue) becomes apparent, it actually works rather well here. This is a sad story, well told.

    More info here.

  3. I Fink U Freeky* (Director: Roger Ballen, South Africa, 4 minutes)

    Meth is a hell of a drug. This is one of the most aggressively terrifying and creeptastic music videos I’ve ever seen – and yet the single most jarring shot was a lingering logo on a pair of Beats headphones (which promptly get smashed by a brick). Product placement of any kind (if that’s indeed what this was) felt more out of place in this bizarre video than the woman beating a dead lion or being crawled upon by a dozen giant rats.

    Watch online here (NSFW).

  4. Listen Up (If the World is Going to Hell) (Director: Nicholas Junke, USA, 4 minutes)

    A generic 80s ballad plays over a couple gleefully competing to the death for a pair of rubber-headed animals. What you see is what you get.

    Watch online here.

  5. Killer Mike–Reagan (Director: Harry Teitelman/Daniel Garcia, USA, 5 minutes)

    An angry animated video for an angry song. This song is conspiratorial, anti-capitalist, anti-government, anti-prison, and above all anti-Reagan. These are good rhymes, well delivered – and that’s all I really ask for in my anti-establishment hip-hop. The murderous cartoon robot was just a bonus.

    Watch online here.

  6. Dog is Dead–Teenage Daughter (Director: Jordan Bahat, USA, 4 minutes)

    This video, of a girl on a driving range, is fine. The song? Also fine. But it’s pretty telling that at the end of this block of films, I couldn’t remember a single thing about it.

    Watch online here.

  7. Kithkin–Fallen Giants (Director: Ben Anderson/Sawyer Purman, USA, 5 minutes)

    Flashlight tag in the woods. Much like Pacific Rim, this film took on a deliberately difficult lighting challenge. Unlike Pacific Rim, it pulled it off well from start to finish. And the song is enjoyable. If you want more specifics on that, talk to a music critic.

    Watch online here.

Tales of Science Fiction

  1. AnimA (Director: Scott Mannion, Australia, 14 minutes)

    Somehow, this film exists as an even more depressing rendition of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (this will not be the last time this weekend that I mention this film). A man shares memories with his dead wife and son as he struggles with his grief. The film makes use of some gorgeous stellar imagery and time lapse, but the technology is a fairly elaborate and unnecessary metaphor for the grieving process. We don’t get to know the man (ostensibly the only real character) terribly well, apart from his grief and scientifically motivated detachment from his former family. This is a sad tale, but it feels more like an exercise in speculative technology than a complete story.

    More info here.

  2. Tears of Steel (Director: Ian Hubert, Netherlands, 12 minutes)

    This is the bright, sunny, relentlessly cheerful robot apocalypse that says, in no uncertain terms, that hell hath no fury like that of an ex-girlfriend who has turned into a 50-foot cyborg and taken over the world. This film is quite fun, very well made, and yet still slightly cheap looking. Basically, it’s a solid episode of Doctor Who. It fetishizes the end of mankind like so many omnipresent bits of creature fiction (whether zombie, vampire, or robot), but demonstrates a modicum of self-awareness about its sheen of coolness. Something about a soldier on the front lines against Skynet pausing from his robot sniping to take a swig from his mango juicebox told me that this film knew exactly what tone it was going for – outrageous fun, and nothing less*.

    And remarkably, you can download it in up to 4K HD quality for free.

    *In retrospect, this may have just been a branding shout-out to the Mango Open Movie Project. But I choose to stick with my original read.

  3. Incident on Highway 73* (Director: Brian Thompson, USA, 27 minutes)

    A photographer and her fiancé drive along an old deserted highway on the way to her parents’ house for Christmas. This film is extremely judicious with its tension, sometimes making use of something as simple as the crack between an open car hood to heighten the scene. The couple is well acted, and the dialogue feels very naturalistic. This feels like the first act to an excellent horror film, which is often all you get in short-form cinema. But the characters and environment are rich enough that nothing about this film feels lacking.

    More info here.

Best of SIFF 2013: Jury Award Winners

  1. Woody (Director: Stuart Bowen, Australia, 10 minutes)

    A uniquely styled, pristinely animated film about a wooden doll (named Woody) who has failed to achieve his dream of being a concert pianist. This is the nth dialog-free short that I’ve seen today, and it still managed to convey a great deal without dialogue. And naturally, it featured a lovely and elegant score of classical piano music.

    More info and trailer here.

  2. Keep A Modest Head (Director: Deco Dawson, Canada, 19 minutes)

    A mostly non-narrative series of mixed media potrayals of French (or possibly Quebecois?) surrealist Jean Benoît, set to recorded monologues from the artist himself. Apparently Benoît was quite the lothario, freely spinning tales of his adolescent sexual exploits (including some rather dangerous climbs on the snowy Paris rooftops). There is an interesting blend of animation and real-life footage here, but its lack of structure (likely owing to its subject) didn’t hold my attention especially well.

    More info here.

  3. My Right Eye (Apple of My Eye)* (Director: Josecho de Linares, Spain, 13 minutes)

    Grandparents. They love us, and they leave us. Of course, they’d probably say the same thing about the grandkids. This film is an absolutely beautiful love story between a 20-something man and his ailing grandma, rendered as much in guilt as it is in love. We can’t see our elders as much as we’d like. We have responsibilities – things we must do. We also have lives – things we want to do. This film doesn’t let the young man off the hook for how long he goes between visits, but it does give him a chance to tell his loving grandmother goodbye. For some audience members, this may seem like wish fulfillment, or a message of love spoken too late. But for others, it may be a reminder to value your loved ones while they’re still around.

    Watch 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.

Seattle’s One-Reel Film Festival 2011 – Sunday Roundup

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.

Click here for Saturday’s films

Cupid Attack

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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 (

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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).

  4. 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.

Best of SIFF 2011 Audience Award Winners

  1. 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.

    Update: Watch it in full here.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

    Update: Buy it on iTunes here.

  4. 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.

    Update: Buy it on iTunes here.

  5. 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.

Astonishing Tales

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

    Update: Watch it in full here.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

    Update: Watch it in full here.

  6. 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.

Seattle’s One-Reel Film Festival 2011 – Saturday Roundup

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

Click here for Sunday’s films

Films4Families: The International Family Passport

  1. Temple Rider (Director: Miles Cheng & Joe Kwun, Hong Kong, 12 minutes)

    A fascinating mix of 3D animation and watercolor/pencil textures. A lonely, bullied girl rides her bike through the park before getting spirited away into a labyrinth of madness. It reminded me of several films (some of which I obliquely referenced in the last sentence), but strongly evokes Henry Selick’s Coraline (albeit with a completely different visual style) as the girl descends into a nightmarish monkey circus ruled over by a horrifying and chaotically pencil-drawn baboon. The ensuing chase takes us through several impressive action setpieces, retaining the gorgeous handpainted textures even as the simplistic 3D animation becomes more elaborate. A clever and imaginative journey. Watch it in HD here.

  2. Trevor (Director: Matthieu Saghezchi, France, 4 minutes)

    Bright and colorful existential crisis of a boy trying to fall asleep at night amid a strange, echoing adult voiceover. Explores some interesting ideas, but they ultimately seem more like the concerns of a grownup than a child (does a kid really worry about CCTV cameras?). Forcibly quirky, kinda boring. Rent it here ($2) or watch the trailer (free).

  3. Walkin’ On Snow Grass (Director: Makiko Sukikara, Japan, 7 minutes)

    A squirrel dormouse wakes up from hibernation and heads warily out into the winter snow. The main character is as adorable as he is seizure-inducing, with his constantly oscillating watercolor texture. It’s unfortunate, because the twinkling stars and sparkling snow create utterly gorgeous backdrops that feel like illustrations in a children’s book. Combined with some slightly improved sound design – the slightest wind and echo, perhaps – these environments could have been truly immersive and inviting, but we never quite see them as anything beyond pretty paintings. Watch it here.

  4. Loser Leg* (Director: Francesco Filippi, Italy, 9 minutes)

    A well-executed high concept about a boy born with no bones in his legs who is constantly getting them tied to things (by bullies). The animation is simple and/or low-budget, but effective nonetheless. Its low frame rate (which sometimes drops to still images) is balanced nicely by the narration, staying as hilarious and engaging as a well-drawn comic strip. More info and trailer here.

  5. Mobile (Director: Verena Fels, Germany, 7 minutes)

    A manic cartoon-physics puzzle involving adorable cloth barnyard animals hanging from either side of a mobile. They slide back and forth as a lonely cow tries desperately to get to the mouse hanging on the other side- his only friend in the world. The character design is top notch, and this film has a manic energy worthy of “Looney Tunes”. Watch it here.

  6. Precise Peter (Director: Martin Schmidt, Germany, 6 minutes)

    An amusing 2.5D rough polygon-y animation about a family sitting down to dinner in utter lockstep with the precise beat set by their patriarch, Peter. His metronome of audible grunts controls every one of their actions, right down to cutting and eating each bite of their fish in unison. All except for the youngest child, that is. The more he tries to conform, the more everything goes wrong, and the angrier Papa Peter gets. If this weren’t so amusing, it might be horrifying and abusive – but suffice to say, the moral of the story doesn’t end well for Peter. Watch it here, and play an awesome interactive game by the same director here.

Why Aren’t These People Famous?

  1. Kevin (Director: Jay Duplass, USA, 35 minutes)

    A very personal musical biopic by Jay Duplass (of the Duplass brothers) about Kevin Gant, a singer/songwriter who enjoyed modest LA success in the early 90s with his unique blend of Spanish guitar and imaginative, New-Agey lyrics delivered in a very talky (almost Bob Dylan) style. In 1995, he disappeared from the music scene. Fast forward to 2009, when filmmaker Jay Duplass tracks Gant down working for UPS in Dallas, and asks him why he stopped playing. The answer, like Gant himself, is complicated (and long-winded). Much of this film is Gant monologuing as he drives through Dallas, so it understandably lives or dies based on how well Gant can perform, whether musically or vocally. Luckily, Gant is quite the character, and his wide-eyed enthusiasm and quixotic imagination doesn’t seem to have abated in the ensuing decade. To hear him talk about his creative process, it’s clear that he has an impressive visual mind and a flare for poetic lyrics. This film takes him on a bit of a journey, owing a great deal to Jay Duplass, who freely admits that he overstepped his bounds as a journalist and documentarian in his involvement in Gant’s potential comeback. But despite this ethical quandry, the film might have seemed a bit of a waste if it had ended with Gant finishing his sad recollection and staying put in Dallas with his delivery job. In the end, this is a triumphant tale, and feels like it deserves to be. More info and featurette here.

  2. Who is Duffy Bishop? And Why is She Not World Famous?* (Director: Bryan Johnston, USA, 28 minutes)

    “I’ll take a voice rich with character over a perfect voice, every time.”

    So says and embodies Duffy Bishop, a little-known Seattle blues singer with an intensely powerful voice and a brilliant eye for performing. My shameful admission is this: I preferred this film to Kevin simply because I enjoyed the musician’s performances far more. The director, Brian Johnston, informed us at the screening that this film was made for $150, via equipment and students borrowed from Ballard High School. But even absent this information, the film is still fairly impressive on a technical level. It relies heavily on a smattering of archival concert footage, and despite the highly variable quality of the image, the sound came through remarkably well, and conveyed all the richness and power of Duffy’s performances that could possibly shine through without seeing and hearing them in person. It’s not only clear that Duffy has a towering vocal presence, but she is also an enthusiastic stage performer, shimmying through the audience with a wireless mic and unabashed enthusiasm. The rest of the film is an exploration of the elusive nature of widespread fame, via interviews and phone calls to record stores around the world to see if they have any Duffy Bishop CDs in stock (this venture doesn’t go well). The editing between the interviews and concert footage is tight, overlapping the performance soundtracks nicely whenever appropriate, without letting them wear out their welcome.

    If there’s one criticism I can raise about this film, it’s that it feels like a relic of the pre-MySpace era. While phoning record stores around the world is an amusing stunt, it doesn’t feel nearly as effective when I consider that I haven’t purchased an album in a record store in ages. I would have liked to see this film address the questions of digital distribution. If a 27-year-old pulp vampire romance writer can make millions on the Kindle Marketplace, surely the parameters of fame have shifted a bit. A quick perusal of Amazon shows five Duffy albums for sale and in stock, with 4/5 available as MP3 downloads. Duffy’s own website lists them for sale as well.

    But you know what? My first inclination leaving this film was to run right out and buy a Duffy album – so if the true message of this film is “Duffy Bishop is an amazing musician”, then it conveyed it quite nicely. More info and featurette.

48 Hour Film Project

The 48 Hour Film Project has a simple premise – write, shoot, edit, and score a movie in two days. To ensure that filmmakers are complying with the timeframe, they are given certain common elements to include in their films. For this year’s Seattle 48HFP, the elements were a paint can, a character (a wedding planner named Stephen/Stephanie), and a line of dialogue (“When are you gonna get it together?”), as well as a genre (different for each film).

  1. Painted Love (Director: John Polnick, USA, 8 minutes)

    A love story between a paint can and a paintbrush, torn apart when a cheap old man buys the paintbrush and a different can from the store. Shot with brilliant color and a nice, bright atmosphere, mostly with shallow depth of field. Great musical score. More info, including how to watch it online for free here.

  2. Battle: Seattle (Director: Aaron Sutherland, USA, 5 minutes)

    A fun little alien invasion romp that riffs as much on Seattleite iPhone users as aliens. As these three gents stand within view of flying saucers demolishing downtown Seattle, but prefer to watch the footage on “Yootoob” and make sarcastic quips, it was more of a crackup than I expected. Goofy as all getup, but fun for a few minutes. Watch it here.

  3. Humpty (Director: Dmitriy Levanchuk, USA, 5 minutes)

    An argument between a drunken, paint-huffing, anthropomorphic egg on a wall and a poorly acted strumpet/wedding planner below. But really, I was sold on just the egg. He’s got the self-hating pre-wedding jitters something fierce, and he conveys it quite nicely as a human face overlaid (Steve Oedekerk style) on an egg held in a hand. He bitches most elegantly. Watch it here.

  4. Mein Cupcake* (Director: Deirdre Timmons, USA, 7 minutes)

    Easily the most polished of the 48-hour films. A little girl is denied cupcakes by her fascist, S&M-loving parents, and heads to the attic to play out this violent feud with her dolls. As we descend into her fantasy world, twisted versions of her mother and father appear with a vengeance, all determined to deny her that sweet, frosty goodness. The costume design is impeccable, and this film has both the best fight choreography and largest number of Hitlers of any film I saw today. Watch it here (NSFW).

  5. So Many Options (Director: Jeremy Cavner, USA, 6 minutes)

    This film owes a great deal to actor Steven Gerard, as well as the writing of his gleeful serial killer. This character is so vocally and physically pitch-perfect, it makes this film a dark comedy delight. Also, given the short timeframe, the cinematography and lighting are top-notch. Watch it here.

  6. Séance Anything (Director: David Jolosky, USA, 5 minutes)

    The bearded, slurpee-sucking séance artist was entertaining… The rest fell prey to a decent sketch concept played out by actors who really didn’t play to any sort of reality. Whether you’re happy or sad that your fiancée is dead on the eve of your wedding, at least make me believe it matters to you on some level. Watch it here.

Nerds Unite!

  1. The Dungeon Master (Director: Rider Strong & Shiloh Strong, USA, 14 minutes)

    A group of skeptical hipsters play D&D for the first time in years. One of them makes a rookie mistake of pointlessly murdering an innocent goblin, then transforms into a ridiculous villain in real life, chastising their thoroughly capable dungeon master for his commitment to his [thoroughly nerdy] craft. The film’s tone (and indeed, its attitude about role-playing games) is a bit inconsistent, but the Evil Hipster is certainly meant to be the bad guy. And the film takes a bit of a magical turn at the end with some unexpectedly strong production values. And hey, it’s co-directed by this guy. More info, trailer, and featurette here.

  2. Monster Flu (Director: Brian Wiebe, USA, 7 minutes)

    A germaphobe shut-in (Vincent) and his best friend, an unlicensed Muppet named Toby, are forced to venture outside the apartment for the first time in 4 years. This film is strange, but semi-enjoyable – although it cuts off before making much of a point about either character. But at least we get to see Vincent masturbate with rubber gloves. So there’s that. More info here.

  3. A Comic Author X-Ray (Director: Marcos Nine, Spain, 20 minutes)

    David Rubin is no good in front of the camera. Or with people. As a camera-shy comic book artist, he seems a risky choice for a documentary film subject. The film ultimately becomes a mix of live camera footage in which Rubin comes off as a bit of a self-important douche, and comic book cells (drawn by Rubin) in which he freely admits as much, and comments on the film being made. Like Adaptation before it, this film becomes an elegant, making-of-itself documentary. It goes on a bit too long, and there’s far too much overwrought meta-text literally written across the screen, but I came away more fascinated by Rubin than I thought I would be. And whether or not I liked the documentary, there’s no denying that Rubin is a talented artist. Watch the trailer.

  4. King Chicken* (Director: Nicolas Bolduc, Canada/Québec, 7 minutes)

    King Chicken is a socially awkward man who walks around with headphones on, introduces himself with a business card (that says King Chicken), and gets romantic advice from a language-learning tape that schools him in real-time how to win the girl of his dreams, who’s sitting directly behind him. This was a delightful film with a rousing soundtrack, and Patrice Beauchesne gives a hilarious physical performance as the title character. Trailer here.

Best of SIFF 2011 Jury Winners

  1. The Eagleman Stag* (Director: Mikey Please, UK, 9 minutes)

    The visual style of this BAFTA-award-winning film is colorless stop-motion animation, using materials made of paper, plaster, and/or styrofoam – like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Our narrator begins as a fetus in the womb, and proceeds to walk us through his entire life, family, and career as a naturalist, as well as his evolving perceptions of time. If time is perceived as a fraction of your total lifespan, he explains, that’s why a moment seems much longer when you’re a child than when you’re an adult. This film spells out its high-minded point by way of a sardonic voiceover narration- something that could have seemed didactic and annoying – but it did so with a brilliant, sharp wit. Trailer and official site here.

  2. Library of Dust (Director: Robert James/Ondi Timoner, USA, 15 minutes)

    From director Ondi Timoner (We Live In Public) comes a documentary about unclaimed “cremains” (cremated ashes) of deceased patients from Oregon State Hospital (formerly Oregon State Insane Asylum). This film attempts to raise some points regarding the conditions of the mentally ill, but really only succeeds in saying that things used to be pretty bad. The only present-day patients we see are in clean, vibrant, brightly-lit surroundings, and are the fresh recipients of a brand new $500 million facility, courtesy of the State Legislature.

    The film spends far too much time talking about the “terrible” conditions of these ash canisters. These carefully catalogued and differentiated canisters. These canisters which were sealed and stored using the best methods available at the time. These canisters which were only damaged when the area was hit with a natural disaster. Frankly, given the number of unmarked and mass graves that have existed throughout history, I’d say these unclaimed ashes were in remarkably good condition. The film attempts to attribute metallurgical decay to spiritual turbulence [read: angry ghosts] rather than time and unintended moisture, but the only real “villain” it manages to latch onto is the families who haven’t claimed these ashes – the families who almost certainly don’t know they exist.

    I’m not entirely sure why this film was made. It definitely has a point to make, but I found it utterly self-deluding and unconvincing. Yes, it’s sad to be forgotten. But it’s the fate that awaits us all. Rather than obsess about our own mortality and legacy, it’s better to make the world a nicer place for the ones who are still here. And by the time this film was made, this had already occurred for the mentally ill of Oregon. More info and trailer here.

  3. Deeper Than Yesterday (Director: Ariel Kleiman, Australia, 20 minutes)

    A harrowing tale of men left to their own devices aboard a Russian submarine for 3 months. I don’t envy the parents of the little girl to the front left of me who will have to explain to her what interest these sailors might have in a waterlogged female corpse. And this is not the only untoward tendency we see indulged during this film. These men are lonely, angry, and on the brink of losing their humanity. This film makes its point well, albeit disturbingly. More info and trailer here.

  4. Time Freak (Director: Andrew Bowler, USA, 11 minutes)

    An amusing twist on a Groundhog Day-like concept, wherein the inventor of a time machine goes back in time one day to correct every little mistake he made…on that day. Forget Ancient Rome; he hasn’t even made it to the afternoon yet. Despite the presence of Primer-like timeline charts and equations, this film isn’t striving for a mind-bending time travel story, but rather a simple buddy comedy in an elegant sci-fi wrapper. Very well executed. More info and trailer here.

Animation for Adults

  1. Loom (Director: Jan Bitzer/Ilija Brunck/Csaba Letay, Germany, 7 minutes)

    Astonishing macro view of a moth caught in a spider’s web, attacked, and devoured. The scene then slows way down and zooms to the molecular level, as we see venom and silk forming within the spider’s body. This is an utterly terrifying film – depicting a spider as a perfect, mechanized killing machine. Watch it in HD here.

  2. Vicenta (Director: Samuel Orti Marti, Spain, 23 minutes)

    This is a very, very adult claymation film, and that appears to be all it set out to be. It’s chock full of explicit language, sex, violence, no less than three Matrix references, and an abundance of juvenile humor. I can now remove “doggy-style sex” from my dwindling list of things I’ve never seen stop-motion animated. That said, what starts as a man mistreating his wife takes a turn for the macabre halfway through, as he dies before revealing the whereabouts of his lottery winnings. It’s all a bit lurid, but undeniably fun. And the subtitles are hilariously, inexcusably bad. Surely there are enough Spanish/English translators available that something like this should never see the light of day, but it only adds to the film’s pulp appeal. More info, trailer.

  3. flesh color (Director: Masahiko Adachi, Japan, 5 minutes)

    Combination of Japanese animated koi (and other pond imagery) swimming turbulently around the skin of still or stop animated nude models. An elegant piece of mixed media. Watch it here (NSFW).

  4. Paths of Hate* (Director: Damian Nenow, Poland, 10 minutes)

    Two prop planes dogfight through a gorgeous skyscape of monstrous clouds and towering mountains. They are the well-sketched comic-book face of rage – determined at any cost to do each other harm. This is glorious and kinetic violence, appropriately jarring to behold. More info and trailer here.

  5. Stanley Pickle* (Director: Vicky Mather, UK, 12 minutes)

    I love, love, love stop motion that makes use of real live humans. It’s not just the jerky, unsettling motion that sells it- it’s the visual tricks and flourishes that would be impossible in any other medium. Among the multitude of brilliant shots is a girl seemingly ice-skating around a forest floor, and the title character’s parents recreated as malfunctioning windup toys. The time-lapse nature of these shots is apparent at times, as we see Stanley watching the girl dance through a meadow from his window, as clouds and trees alike show that hours are actually passing as these shots are culled. It’s all terribly gorgeous, and its simple theme – about life, death, and letting go – is conveyed nicely. More info and trailer here. (UPDATE: Watch it online here)

  6. Visitation (Director: Suzan Pitt, USA, 9 minutes)

    There has been at least one world of grotesque, non-narrative madness in every festival, and this year is no exception. I suppose it was just a matter of time before one came along that I enjoyed. The imagery in this film is disturbing, but well-conceived – evoking the Platonic “Allegory of the Cave” among other things. I can’t say it was a pleasant experience, but it was a fascinating one. More info here.

  7. Eye of the Storm (Director: Christopher Alender, USA, 6 minutes)

    This would seem to be a music video from the Zack Snyder school of heightened reality. The animation of this lone airship pilot drifting through an endless sky is utterly gorgeous and nearly photorealistic (in that video-gamey, HDR sorta way). That said, I think Zack Snyder did this film a disservice, since I’ve seen animation this true-to-life before, which, by itself, is no longer sufficient to impress. The film has no dialogue and almost no narrative, and the only thing I remember distinctly about it is an oddly simplistic-looking dragon (which flew in the face of every other piece of animation). For a purely technical exercise, 6 minutes was a bit too long, but perhaps fans of the band would disagree. Watch it here.

  8. Rosa (Director: Jesús Orellana, Spain, 9 minutes)

    I felt at several points like I was going to vomit while watching this. As a cyborg girl awakens and runs for her life, a series of violent clashes ensue, each more horrific and pointless than the last. The entire thing felt like an unadulterated mashup of every video game cutscene I’ve ever been unable to skip through. The girls all look like buxom, pouty-lipped dominatrixes, the blood-splatter is worthy of a bukkake film, and the dingy, grey-brown world is vomited forth in a sickening soft glow and jarring, schizophrenic cuts. As if this world wasn’t unpleasant enough, we also get a relentless series of interstitial POV shots of the girl’s blurry, green-hued cyborg-vision. None of this is to say the film looked cheap (with the exception of some dubious motion whenever the characters jumped through the air and landed). On the contrary, a great deal of money, artistry, and animation man-hours were clearly spent on this derivative monstrosity. What a waste. More info and trailer 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 (the first three below), I can’t guarantee that the others will be entirely appropriate. Viewer discretion is advised.

Seattle’s One-Reel Film Festival 2010 – Saturday Roundup

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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).

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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…

  1. 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.

  2. Fancy (Director: Chris Olsen, USA, 3 minutes) –
    A short dance number on a minimalist set. Fun for what it is. More info here.

  3. 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!.

  4. 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.

  5. 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:

Seattle’s One-Reel Film Festival – Saturday Roundup

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:

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. The Herd (Director: Ken Wardrop, Ireland, 4 minutes) –
    A herd of cattle adopt a wayward fawn. Very cute. Watch it here!


Hej! (Swedish shorts)

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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

  1. 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).

  2. 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.

  3. Thorns (Director: Nitzan Rotschild, Czech Republic, 7 minutes) –
    A bizarre silent film. Starts out as a romance, but becomes…something else. More info here.

  4. 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.


Nightmare Factory

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.