Seattle’s One-Reel Film Festival 2014 – Monday 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 Sunday’s films


Best of SIFF 2014: Jury Award Winners

  1. Rhino Full Throttle (Director: Erik Schmitt, Germany, 15 minutes)

    A beautiful tale about temporary friendship amid wanderlust, the expectations we impose on those who pass through our lives on a transient basis, and how to express those feelings outside of Facebook. The main character is an artist (Tino Mewes) who uses the city of Berlin as his medium and muse, using cardboard and forced perspective to carve out a magical world straight out of the minds of Michel Gondry or Terry Gilliam. The in-camera visual construction and deconstruction are marvelous, even as he finds a partner in crime, Vicky (Marleen Lohse), with whom to construct his elaborate artwork. And he loves her, because of course he does – and then this film delivers a powerfully subtle message that no, the girl in your life doesn’t lose the power to make her own decisions just because you develop a crush on her. And the main character’s journey ends up spinning this dilemma into a beautiful tale of friendship and mutual acceptance – the idea that no matter where you go in the world, your friends will always be your friends unless you give them a serious reason not to be.

    Trailer here.

  2. Twaaga* (Director: Cedric Ido, Burkina Faso/France, 30 minutes)

    I don’t know Burkina Faso, but this short historical family drama acquainted me with a huge amount of detail in its brief runtime, projecting the uncertainty and weirdness of a post-revolutionary environment with remarkable skill. The secretiveness, the petty grievances settled under the auspices of revolutionary fervor, and the grand uncertainty about the future are put on display through the eyes of a young boy, Manu (Sabourou Bamogo), who desperately wants to be a superhero. The film’s title, Twaaga, means “Invincible”, and evokes a tribalistic ritual that we see at the film’s outset, designed to instill revolutionary fervor by imbuing the recipient with an ancestral and magical sense of invincibility. Manu sees his brother Albert (Harouna Ouedraogo) becoming anointed in this manner, and it melds seemlessly with his superheroic desire to navigate his own childhood perils and look after his family. Manu converses with the local comic merchant about the various parallels between the X-Men and the American civil rights movement, then dons a superhero costume to confront his local bullies on the soccer field. And all around the edges of this family, the revolution rages on. This is exactly how powerful, personal storytelling is done, and it has stayed with me since I saw it.

    More info and trailer here.

  3. Maikaru (Director: Amanda Harryman, USA, 7 minutes)

    Maikaru is a powerful, personal testament from a young man who grew up in Seattle’s underbelly as a victim of human trafficking. The vast majority of the film is shot up close and personal in Maikaru’s face, his piercing gaze heightened with a pair of stylistic contact lenses that make his pupils look like stars going nova. The contrast created by his upbeat persona, artistic endeavors, and positive outlook is overwhelming as he reveals one terrible thing after another that happened to him, his siblings, and his mother during his upbringing. This is not a pleasant film, but it is certainly an important one for me to properly understand my hometown of Seattle. The Greyhound bus station at 9th and Virginia, the colony of drug culture on Pike between 2nd and 3rd… These were the bedrooms of Maikaru’s childhood, as well as for countless others that I pass each day, whose stories I may never hear.

    Watch it here.


Down Under

  1. Thanks For the Ride (Director: Tenika Smith, Australia, 17 minutes)

    There’s one of these every year – a short with the narrative ambition and depth of character that it would’ve worked better as a feature film, and in this case, that is almost to the film’s detriment. From the hearse driver sitting at a funeral who clearly doesn’t give a damn, to the young man with a cast on his arm who “shouldn’t be here” (according to an angry man who chases him from the funeral), these characters (played by Simon Lyndon and Matt Callan) were instantly intriguing. The resulting short left me wanting another two acts to help fill out their unlikely friendship a bit more – a few of the emotional beats (including a bit of an improbable fistfight) happened just a bit too quickly. But the film’s every attempt at emotional resonance landed well thanks to Lyndon and Callan’s solid “lovable loser” performances, and all told, the film is well worth a look.

    Watch it online here.

  2. In Autumn (Director: Rosanna Scarcella, Australia, 15 minutes)
    Is “romantic dreadnaught” an appropriate name for a film about romance that evokes a persistent and deliberate sense of impending doom? This film was…utterly boring and macabre. And if its objective was to properly express the uncertainty and malaise of middle-aged romance… Here’s where I should dismissively say, “Bravo” and get on with my life, but this film hardly even deserves credit for that. Romance is hard at any age, until the moment it stops being so. For some people, this moment might be death. And this film earns no credit for a tedious slog in the service of such a banal observation.

    More info and trailer here.

  3. A Great Man (Director: Joshua Dawson, Australia, 17 minutes)
    There’s something rather powerful about two boys lying on the grass in small-town Australia debating the definition of a great man, as they stare up at the bright full moon – a celestial body which, at that exact moment in 1969, has two great men walking on it, as a nearby radio helpfully informs us. These boys engage in the sort of Stand By Me risky exploration emblematic of this time period (at least in cinema), including dares and dangerous stunts. There’s an axiom in population studies that males slightly outnumber females at birth, but by age 25 or so, it all evens out. Because boys, the axiom says, are more likely to do stupid things that will get themselves killed before they come of age. This axiom is likely not actually borne out by statistics (boys are more likely to be victims of violence, for instance), but it’s fair to say stunts and dares do inform society’s notions of greatness and masculinity to some degree. Great men do dangerous things, the story goes, sometimes for no reason whatsoever. And as these boys debate jumping from a 50-foot waterfall, the adult in me was certainly saying “hike to the bottom and check the depth first!”, even as the teen boy in me said I should go for it, or more likely, chicken out, get called a pussy, and get on with my day. This film captures something very real about boyhood, even if it’s just the legend of great men that we grow up with, and never fully realize in the real world.

    Trailer here.


Show Me The World

  1. The Queen (Director: Manuel Abramovich, Argentina, 19 minutes)
    After watching this film (a documentary?), I just hope there’s a teen beauty queen out there who’s doing it by choice. Because this film depicts an Argentinian carnival beauty (who is perhaps 10 years old) in a manner that is nothing short of child abuse. The film is told almost entirely through an extended close-up on the girl’s face, as frigid stage mothers dance around the periphery of the frame strapping a 10-pound rhinestone monstrosity to the top of her head. They thread zip-ties through her hair, offer lidocaine creams to numb her scalp, and eventually, just straight-up pills to pop (which she refuses, despite no longer being able to feel or move her head and neck). We hear about the various scars borne across the backs of these beauty queens by the end of their teenage years, even as we see them forming across this girl’s face. This film made its point effectively, even if I’m torn as to whether the mere act of making it was despicable.

    More info and trailer here.

  2. Mother Corn* (Director: Guillermo Lecuona, USA/Mexico, 16 minutes)
    If nothing else, this film demonstrates the sad truth that as any culture approaches extinction, it becomes, at best, a thing to be packaged and sold to tourists. This dilemma is addressed through a grandmother and granddaughter who struggle between their linguistic and cultural identity – Trique vs. Mexican. Infused with Pan’s Labyrinth style imagery, this film mingles the girl’s uncertainty with images of death, floating souls, and fantastical creatures.

    Trailer here.


Films4Adults #3

  1. The Man Who Knew a Lot* (Director: Alice Vial, France, 20 minutes)
    It’s the ugly truth of every specialized touristy shop that the knick-knacks contained within – the authentic Southwestern pottery, the deer antlers, the gargoyle statues – won’t look nearly as good on your apartment shelf as they do in a perfectly lit store surrounded by similar crap. They’re selling an image, not an object. And this film takes this idea to the nth degree by taking place inside a dystopian IKEA store called Paradesign. On the show floor, scenes of everyday life and household situations in various disembodied rooms are expertly staged, complete with human beings who spend all day – indeed, live their entire lives – sitting in the chair, laying on the bed, and so forth. An old man on the first floor, Mr. Beranger (André Penvern), teams up with a little girl (Naomi Biton) who was born on a €59.99 bassinet, both of them desperate to break free from Paradesign and find out what lies beyond. The result is somewhere between WALL-E and Dark City – an oppressively well-rendered piece of short science fiction.

    More info here.

  2. Deadbeat (Director: Danielle Morgan, USA, 12 minutes)
    Still a better love story than Twilight. This film acts as an unofficial sequel to the inexorable love story between a perpetually 17-year-old vampire (John Brodsky) and his now upper-30s human lover (Melissa D. Brown). Great fun made at the expense of a genre that richly deserves it.

    More info and trailer here.

  3. Syndromeda (Director: Patrik Eklund, Sweden, 22 minutes)
    A naked, bloodied man (Jacob Nordenson) is found wandering in the middle of nowhere. What ensues is a fascinating dramatic parable about how our minds deal with trauma and uncertainty. From its non-linear storytelling to outright confabulations on the part of the main character, this film depicts a man utterly perplexed about what has happened to him, filling in the details of ambiguous sensory input with his own culturally informed ideas. And the result is a smart, solid, visually stunning horror short.

    More info here, scene from the film here.

  4. The Fall (Director: Kristof Hoornaert, Belgium, 16 minutes)
    A couple debates what to do when they accidentally hit and kill a child in the middle of the woods. Because everyone knows the road less traveled is the easiest spot to dispose of a body. This film is beautifully shot, but existentially unpleasant. And that may have been the point, obliterating Eden with original sin and all that – but the experience wasn’t exactly enjoyable.

    More info and trailer here.

  5. We Wanted More (Director: Stephen Dunn, Canada, 16 minutes)
    Just add water for instant body and existential horror, as a singer (Christine Horne) loses her voice the night before a concert tour, and imagines it appearing before her in the form of a creepy child (Skyler Wexler). Her angst about her career is compounded by having just dumped her boyfriend (it’s implied, because he proposed). This is a simple, effective premise with stirringly disturbing imagery, bringing to mind the likes of Black Swan. And it turned out to be the perfect recipe for a personally high-stakes horror short that comes to a swift and pitch-perfect conclusion.

    Trailer here.




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

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

SIFF Film Center projection room

The One-Reel Film Festival is part of Seattle’s renowned Bumbershoot music and arts festival. Throughout the weekend, I’ve had the opportunity to see short films from all over the world, some of which can be viewed online (I’ve included links below where applicable). The films were arranged into blocks of around an hour apiece, which I’ve arranged in presentation order below. Bold text means I enjoyed the film, and an asterisk (*) means it was my favorite film of that block. Skip to the bottom for a list of all the films that can be viewed online.

Click here for Saturday’s films
Click here for Monday’s films


 

Dance, Dance, Dance

Still from

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

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

    More info and trailer here.

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

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

    More info and trailer here.

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

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

    More info, and watch the film here.

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

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

    Watch it here (borderline NSFW).

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

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

    Watch it here.


 

Love…In the Afternoon

Still from

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

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

    Watch it online here.

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

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

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

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

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

    More info and subscription-based viewing here.


SIFF Fly Films 2014

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

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

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

    Watch it here.

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

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

    More info here.

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

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

    Watch it here.

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

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

    More info here.

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

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

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


Best of the Northwest

Still from

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

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

    More info here.

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

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

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

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

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

    More info here.


Films4Adults #2

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

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

    More info and trailer here.

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

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

    More info and trailer here.

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

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

    More info here.

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

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

    Watch it here (NSFW).

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

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

    Watch it here (NSFW).


Quick List: All of the films that are available online

A note on “NSFW”… Suffice to say, I saw a lot of films this weekend. The ones that I specifically remember containing adult content, I’ve marked as Not Safe For Work. However, outside of the “Films4Families” block, I can’t guarantee that the others will be entirely appropriate. Viewer discretion is advised.

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

SIFF Film Center projection room

The One-Reel Film Festival is part of Seattle’s renowned Bumbershoot music and arts festival. Throughout the weekend, I’ve had the opportunity to see short films from all over the world, some of which can be viewed online (I’ve included links below where applicable). The films were arranged into blocks of around an hour apiece, which I’ve arranged in presentation order below. Bold text means I enjoyed the film, and an asterisk (*) means it was my favorite film of that block. Skip to the bottom for a list of all the films that can be viewed online.

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


Films4Families #1
Still from

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

    More info and trailer here.

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

    More info and trailer here.

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

    More info, trailer, and DVD available here.

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

    More info and trailer here.

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

    Watch it here.


 

Face the Music

Still from

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

    Watch it here.

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

    Watch it here.

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

    Trailer here.

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

    Band’s official website, with performance videos here.

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

    Watch it here.

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

    Watch it here.


 

Ripped From the Headlines

Still from

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

    More info and trailer here.

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

    More info here.

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

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

    Watch it here, more info here.

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

    Watch it here.

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

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

    Watch it here.


Best of SIFF 2014: Audience Award Winners

Still from

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

    Watch it here.

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

    More info and trailer here.

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

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

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

    More info here.


Tales of Science Fiction

Still from

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

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

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

    Watch it online here.




    Quick List: All of the films that are available online

    A note on “NSFW”… Suffice to say, I saw a lot of films this weekend. The ones that I specifically remember containing adult content, I’ve marked as Not Safe For Work. However, outside of the “Films4Families” block, I can’t guarantee that the others will be entirely appropriate. Viewer discretion is advised.

Seattle’s One-Reel Film Festival 2013 – Monday (Bonus Segment)

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 Sunday’s films



Films4Adults: Thrill Me


  1. Birding (Director: Max Cantor, USA, 16 minutes)

    Note to Hollywood: do more “rear window” scenarios. No, I don’t mean you should transparently rip off the entire story of Hitchcock’s masterpiece, but rather – give us a story that effectively utilizes the panopticon monstrosity of a high-rise city apartment building to great narrative and cinematic effect. Birding is exactly the sort of short that I was looking for in this category. It features David (Alan Fox) and Ada (Lizzy Fraser), a newly engaged couple about to head out for the weekend to go bird-watching with Ada’s father. David becomes fascinated with a woman in an opposite apartment, and begins watching her with his newly acquired bird-watching binoculars. This incredibly simple setup works in large part because the couple’s acting and dialogue is stellar. They establish a credible relationship in a short space of time. If the film had failed at this one crucial task, it would’ve rendered the awkward final act entirely ineffectual. And this act is admittedly a bit off. The dialogue, strong up until that point, becomes awkward and uneven, as does Fox’s performance. The film seems to be building toward an obvious and excruciating ending that it mercifully avoids, and everything remains askew for just long enough to make it seem like a deliberate and effective choice.

    And that is ultimately what this short is about – choices. The mundane choices of our daily lives are far more frequent than the sort that might have far-reaching and life-changing consequences, but this film effectively shines a light on one that can seemingly erupt out of nowhere. No matter how important the choice may be, you’re still the same person you were before you had to make it, and you would do well to remember that.

    More info and trailer here.

  2. Midnight City (Director: Luis Ventura, Switzerland, 14 minutes)

    Midnight City is an incredibly goofy and trashy genre exercise that takes place in a brothel during an unspecified “old-timey gangster period”. I’ve certainly enjoyed such pulp before, but this one was almost intolerable. There was a severe gulf in acting caliber between the female lead (Lucinda Farrelle, who wasn’t half bad) and the two male supporting characters. Male #1, the john (Alex Rendall) bore an uncanny physical resemblance to Ben Affleck, but gave a performance that was almost as grating as Reindeer Games. And Male #2 (Alan Thorpe) was boring and forgettable as the club “Daddy” – although I’m not sure any actor could have redeemed such terrible dialogue. You have to be pretty bad at being a creepy pimp to make me long for the squirm-inducing talents of Oscar Isaac in Sucker Punch (a performance I loved, but never wish to see again). This wasn’t good (or stylistically consistent) enough to be Sin City, not bad enough to be The Room, nor pretentious enough to be Sucker Punch. But very nearly dumb enough for that last one.

  3. Spine* (Director: Sophie Miller, Australia, 11 minutes)

    What would happen to my culturally constructed and reinforced notions of masculinity and power if I were suddenly rendered paralyzed? How would my image of myself in a romantic relationship have to change as I suddenly must be taken care of all the time? And how would all of these tenuous notions avail me in a life-and-death situation that I was just as unlikely to face before my injury?

    Spine forces the audience to confront all of these questions in a matter of minutes. There were so many subtle touches that grant a view into the inner life of the quadriplegic protagonist Nick (Lucas Pittaway). There was a brief flashback to he and his girlfriend Chloe (Sara West) making out – an expression of affection that is highly physical for both parties, and has now left them both behind. In a lesser film, this sort of flashback would have lingered and hammered the point into oblivion, but here, it was just a nice, subtle moment, in a film that makes a nice, subtle point.

    West is also given some nice material to work with as she runs into an old friend working in a liquor store where she has stopped to get Nick some beer. Chloe clearly maintains a strong affection for her boyfriend, but also feels the burden of their new existence together. Even as Nick’s arc is coming together in the carpark below, each stolen moment in the liquor store reveals more about her own struggle. And it all fits together quite well.

    This experience feels authentic, even as I mercifully lack the life experience to validate its authenticity for myself. This is an unfortunate, but credible situation – and a story quite worth telling.

    More info here.

  4. Penny Dreadful (Director: Shane Atkinson, USA, 18 minutes)

    This film reminded me aggressively of both Tarantino and his acolytes – and I mean that in the best way possible. There are few things more hilarious than the kidnapping of a child gone awry (*chuckle*), and this film milks every bit of dark comedy from the situation. Both man and girl were brilliantly cast. The easy comparison for Oona Laurence‘s character here is Hit-Girl from Kick-Ass, but I actually found this character far more believable. She’s not a cartoon psychopath; just a troubled and precocious little girl with a bit of an f’d-up sense of humor. This film was an absolute delight, and I don’t dare say more.

    More info and trailer here.

    Watch it here.

  5. A Pretty Funny Story (Director: Evan Morgan, Canada, 19 minutes)

    This is a bad story for bad people to enjoy. It begins with a couple glancing through the window at their neighbor, who is indulging in a bit of goofy solo dancing. They laugh at him for a moment before they’re caught watching…and then everything goes to a bit of a dark place. This film is hilarious, awkward, mean-spirited, and unrelenting. And I loved it – I’ll direct you back to Sentence #1 for my conclusion.

    More info (and the first three minutes) here; buy it here.

  6. Voice Over (Director: Martin Rosete, Spain, 10 minutes)

    A narrator tells a series of increasingly dire life-and-death situations, all in the second-person starring you, the audience member. Each of the sequences features the main character (you) about to die in increasingly horrific ways, whether in a space suit on an alien planet, or strapped to a sinking boat underwater. Each of these sequences is rendered with absolute precision (and gorgeous visuals, particularly for the alien planet), and yet each one has a bit of a fanciful quality. The narrator keeps cursing his poor memory and correcting himself, lending each story both the urgency of imminent death and the endearing hilarity of somebody’s dad telling a poorly strung narrative. The heartwarming side of this film hits like a ton of bricks, and yet feels like it was always inevitable.

    Watch online here.



Best of the Northwest

  1. The Next Step (Director: Mel Eslyn, USA, 7 minutes)

    A couple meets a stranger (Kevin Seal) in a coffee bar to discuss their next step in the relationship. And that’s really all I’ll say. This is a 7-minute film featuring a single joke – meaning it has basically the same formula as a modern episode of South Park – but it only needs to keep the joke going for a third as long. By and large, it works. The couple is delightfully awkward, with the enthusiastic Nancy (Alycia Delmore) and the uncomfortable (and slightly henpecked) Glen (Evan Mosher) making an effective on-screen pair. The film keeps you guessing nicely, complete with a wonderfully creepy interaction between the stranger and the coffee-shop manager, as well as a so-subtle-I-may-have-imagined-it reference to Clerks. Funny stuff.

    More info here.

  2. Decimation* (Director: Wade Jackson, USA, 30 minutes)

    Like any film featuring American actors set in a foreign country, there is something slightly askew about Decimation, at least until your brain has time to adjust. Much criticism was heaped upon Bryan Singer’s Valkyrie for not even attempting German accents for its English-speaking cast of Wehrmacht soldiers. But I tend to think that affecting a foreign accent is more of a gamble than a guaranteed win. Perhaps Enemy at the Gates (which receives a nice shout-out in this film) handled it best for an American audience, opting for the generic stand-in British accent for all of its Russian characters. Decimation, a film about a group of World War II Russian solders accused of cowardice, opted for accent fakery (with bits of actual Russian sprinkled in), and I don’t think it does the film any great service. The acting quality here is quite solid all around, but the accent work is variable, and my three years of Russian language made it difficult to separate the two as the film began. But before too long, I was absorbed enough in the story and cast that this detail ceased to bother me.

    The strongest performer is certainly Roy Stanton, who plays Prisoner One, the unofficial leader of the group. The titular practice of “Decimation” refers not to the complete obliteration of a group, as it has come to mean, but rather the destruction of just one tenth of it to enforce discipline – in this case, a single soldier selected by Prisoner One for execution. He could even choose himself if he wished, but whichever man is chosen must be executed by the other members of the group. This practice featured prominently in a vignette in Max Brooks’ novel World War Z (also in Russia), and apparently there is a documented instance of it happening among Russians in World War II. But I give this film immense credit for using the practice as an effective metaphor for the unrelenting bleakness and indifference of warfare.

    If you’re lucky, you won’t be in a war. If you’re luckier, you won’t be in a war in the Soviet Red Army. And if you’re luckier still, you won’t duck or hide in the face of enemy fire while a commissar is watching your back. Enforcing both the virtue of patriotism and the shame of cowardice was deemed essential in a war in which over 20 million Russian soldiers and civilians died. We get to see this struggle of ideology vs. survival play out in the face of pure, indifferent chance. Differentiating ten characters in the space of a 30-minute short must have been a daunting task, and the film does a marvelous job. Each character, whether the suspected Cossack, the Eastern Orthodox priest, or the doggedly patriotic teenager, gets his moment to shine. Making me care about each of these characters was essential; otherwise I would have a nice, long list of unimportant extras that I’d be happy to see up against the wall in the end. There were certainly a few who received very little screentime, but not one that seemed superfluous.

    I’ve referred to a few short films from this weekend as a “solid first act”, but I think this may be the only “solid third act” that I saw. The film jumps effortlessly from one moment of character-loaded tension to the next, mostly justifying it with the acting, but never completely earning it with the setup. Even a few plot details are unclear from the start. I initially identified the prison commandant (Michael Patten) as one of the worst accent offenders (sounding more German than Russian), only to see him identified as “The German” in the end credits. How did a German come to work in a Soviet prison camp? We never know…but it must be a hell of a story. Despite this fundamental problem with putting feature-length complexity into a short film, none of these unknown details prevented me from feeling every moment of shock, sadness, and horror by the film’s end. And apart from that, the film is very well made. The score is dramatic and catchy – albeit slightly repetitive – but it never once commits the cardinal sin of pushing past the justified emotional content of the scene. The production design is budget-impeccable, featuring authentic weapons and real-looking uniforms*. In addition to the score, the sound mix features the slightly mocking twitter of birds just outside the cell, giving the constant [and false] impression that happiness and freedom are just a window-climb away. Very effective.

    Bottom line – this movie is unrelentingly bleak, features some very strong performances, and is greater than the sum of its high-concept parts. For a 30-minute war film, I couldn’t have asked for more.

    *Confession: I really don’t know if the uniforms were accurate, although they helped significantly with character differentiation. But the weapons (notably the PPSh and the Mosin-Nagant rifle) certainly looked legit. I spotted at least one German MP-40 rifle, but given that the Russians frequently had to deal with weapon and ammo shortages, I’m happy to justify that by assuming it was a captured item.

    More info and trailers here.




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


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.

SIFF Review: Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom” – A triumphant, romantic caper

Poster for "Moonrise Kingdom"

If I were to categorize Wes Anderson, I would place him in a similar camp to Tim Burton. They both have a distinct and instantly recognizable vision for the bizarre worlds in which their films take place, and they both tend to work with an abundance of the same actors. But while Burton’s recent contributions have been marked by a nearly linear decline in quality and coherence, Anderson’s films have taken a far more regrettable route… They have become utterly forgettable. While I have seen [and modestly enjoyed] every one of Wes Anderson’s films since Rushmore, I can scarcely recall a single moment from any of them since 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums. While Anderson’s quirk and theatricality has remained as distinctive as ever, his overall vision has somehow become completely unremarkable.

Until now.

Moonrise Kingdom is a triumphant return to form for Anderson (along with co-writer Roman Coppola), meticulously crafting a rich and memorable world in the fictitious island of New Penzance off the Atlantic Coast. The story kicks right into gear as a young Khaki Scout, Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) leaves a hand-scrawled letter of resignation in his jamboree tent and strikes off into the wilderness in a purloined canoe. At the very same moment, his preteen sweetheart Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) runs away from home on the other end of the island, leaving her parents, Walt (Bill Murray) and Laura (Frances McDormand), at a loss to explain her disappearance. An immediate search begins as both the local police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) and Khaki Scout Master Randy Ward (Edward Norton) both rally their respective posses to search for the wayward couple.

The film takes a bit of time to find its footing, owing to the bizarrely precocious dialogue of its young, first-time leads. Their initial line readings have an almost wooden theatricality, with drawn-out banter so improbably delivered that it seems like Shakespeare in the Park as read from a teleprompter. But as their chaste and cordial romp gets into full swing, the two actors somehow find an accord. They become a fascinating romantic screen presence, even as the overall plot starts to take on a flavor none-too-dissimilar from the first Rambo film. An early “showdown” ensues between the young couple atop a hillside and some unrelenting Scouts who have happened upon them. Without grownup supervision, the Scouts are tenacious in their pursuit, armed with absurdly dangerous homemade melee weapons, an archery kit, and a lead Scout primed to charge the young lovers on his dirt bike. It’s all a great deal of fun, but the romance starts to make a bit more sense when viewed through this adversarial lens. These kids are determined to skip ahead to grownup life, bidding farewell to their erstwhile families and making a life for themselves in the wilderness. They are the embodiment of “us against the world”, even if their oppressive world is like something from the mind of Roald Dahl or J.K. Rowling.

Still from "Moonrise Kingdom"

In fact, the entire cast plays the film remarkably straight, even as the stakes continue to ramp absurdly upward. An on-screen narrator (Bob Balaban) informs us that a hurricane will strike in three days’ time. In fact, he tells us that this has already happened. By playing the entire film as a historical document, the various perils that befall the characters take on a tense fatalism. As the film goes on, any time a character steps onto a boat or seaplane feels like it might be the last time they’ll ever been seen alive. In this way, Moonrise evokes another much more adult film – Shutter Island. While Suzy will simply be returned to her parents if caught, Sam faces potentially greater peril, as it is revealed early on that he lives in a foster home that will not be welcoming him back, due to his unspecified “emotional problems”. The specter of Social Services (embodied by a hilariously dry Tilda Swinton) hangs over the proceedings at all times, along with all the potential horror of 1960s psychiatric practices. If Sam manages to survive his adventure, his life will get irrevocably worse.

Slightly less interesting are the marital problems of Suzy’s parents. Murray and McDormand are amusing together – a pair of attorneys who sleep in separate beds and speak of little else but their cases – but Murray and Willis, both rivals for the lady’s affections, are the real standouts. They each give their best comedic performances in years, engaging in a relentless duel of nonchalance and quiet resignation. Edward Norton is also brilliantly straight-laced, although the film seems to run out of practical use for him by the final act (not counting a bizarre stunt with Harvey Keitel). Given that Willis’ arc is probably the most underdeveloped in the film, it almost seems like the ending of Norton’s storyline was chopped and given to Willis instead. It was an odd choice, but it did feel just barely earned, as the film gives each character just enough setup to justify their final choices. Except, perhaps, for Jason Schwartzmann, who shows up just long enough to be awesome and underused as Cousin Ben, the obligatory helpful rogue. As an Anderson vet, Schwartzmann is so well-equipped to handle this material that I couldn’t help but want a bit more of him.

This would seem to be as far down the quirky path as Wes Anderson can delve without diminishing returns. Not everything in this film worked – as much as I was enjoying the meticulous opening cinematography of the Bishop home, I found myself rolling my eyes at its more superfluous elements, including Frances McDormand’s rather grating use of a megaphone to call for her children. But once the story got started, I was completely swept up in it. There is so much in this film that I’ll fondly recall, from the ridiculously tall treehouse to the Terabithian splendor of the titular Kingdom. This film is a sweet and nostalgic chronicle of the wondrous worlds that we create in childhood, and even manages to delve into the dire consequences of growing up, without ever losing a bit of its charm.

FilmWonk rating: 8 out of 10

SIFF Review: “Earthbound” – A schizophrenic mess of alien romance

Poster for "Earthbound"

Earthbound is a mess, plain and simple, which is doubly disappointing given all the awesomely schlocky B-movie promise of the pre-credits sequence. We learn the tale of Mathius and Jace, the sole refugees of a distant planet called Zalaxon, which has been torn apart in a civil war. Mathius fled the planet with his son, who was due to be sacrificed by the enemy in order to win the war…somehow. Jace lives on as the “Last Son of Zalaxon” in exile. Presumably this is also a symbolic title, as his warring planet is still awaiting his return by way of a signal beacon visible through a wormhole that opens every few years between Zalaxon and Earth.

And you know what? All of that is just fine. This film takes an absurd space opera and spells it out via a dazzling series of colorful comic book panels, leaving the audience begging for more. But all of the delight and incoherence of this premise could have only succeeeded if this film had the slightest idea of what tone it was going for. If I’m to judge by Liam Bates’ oppressively cloying musical score, the film is trying to be a grown-up version of E.T., replacing the earnest and childlike alien relationship with that of a pair of desperately lovestruck adults. Joe, the 10-year-old boy formerly known as Jace, loses his father Bill (né Mathius) (David Morrissey) at the age of 10. Before dying [of unspecified causes], Bill lets his son in on his extraterrestrial origins, leaving behind a collection of retro-futuristic children’s toys and otherwise human-looking objects as evidence. But more on this collection later.

Fifteen years later, Joe (Rafe Spall), now working as a clerk in a comic shop, instantly falls for fellow sci-fi fan Maria (Jenn Murray) by way of an electronic wristband that instantly informs him of their 93% genetic compatibility (well past the 85% that he needs in order to knock up one of those easy Earth girls). While “you’re the only hope for my people” might have actually had some success as a pickup line, Joe wisely conceals his true identity when asking Maria out. But what we get instead are some of the most insipid attempts at romantic dialogue this side of Attack of the Clones, made even more obnoxious by the score’s various attempts to make me think I’d felt something for these star-crossed lovers. The two performances are individually decent, but weren’t remotely believable as romantic partners, with Murray’s earnest sadness and Spall’s unrelenting quirk making an incredibly poor match when sharing the screen.

Still from "Earthbound"

This film had all the elements of a successful piece of sci-fi, but no earthly idea how to fit them all together. Among Joe’s gadgets was a holographic projection of his father – a device that served virtually no purpose beyond exposition and plot contrivance. This is neither Jor-El nor Obi-Wan. While there’s a chance of poignancy in the idea of Joe conversing endlessly with an affectless husk of his dead father, the various attempted emotional beats in this “relationship” utterly fail to land. When Joe is potentially forced to give up on seeing his projected father ever again, the dilemma inspired nothing more than a tepid yawn, and was over just as quickly. If Joe doesn’t care, why should I? And his choices don’t seem to matter much anyway. Each of Joe’s mundane-looking alien devices had to stop working at just the right moment to prevent anyone from believing his story, and start working again just in time to be useful or muddy the waters further. The film tries to delve into psychological thriller territory by forcing Joe to doubt the veracity of his tale, but given the clunkiness with which his doubts are established, it doesn’t remotely succeed. Apart from a hilariously dark performance by Stephen Hogan as the world’s worst psychiatrist, there is very little to redeem this act, and it attempts so many unsuccessful twists and reversals that it all becomes downright tedious.

But the final sequence very nearly saved it. Some vague spoilers will follow. By the time we reached the third villainous monologue, in which the baddie just can’t kill the hero without first talking his ear off about how thoroughly he has been beaten, I thought perhaps the film had found its footing again. The final sequence would feel right at home in a 50s sci-fi romp, and it was this loving and old-fashioned treatment of the genre that made me lament just how much of a missed opportunity this is. Earthbound is actually quite well made, and everything – from the production design and effects to the majority of the performances – seemed just adept enough that it all should have coalesced into something just a bit more watchable. But for a film that only has enough plot to fill perhaps a single decent episode of Doctor Who, the rest just feels like the disorganized cutting-room bits of a different project.

FilmWonk rating: 4 out of 10

FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #23 – “Liberal Arts” (dir. Josh Radnor) (SIFF)

Still from "Liberal Arts"

Back at SIFF and back to school! Glenn and Daniel hit the books with college nostalgia as they review Liberal Arts, the latest film from How I Met Your Mother star Josh Radnor. Take in their worthless intellectual blather while you can! They’ve both got work in the morning that is utterly unrelated to their majors.

May contain some NSFW language.

FilmWonk rating: 6.5/10

Show notes:

  • Music for this episode is a pair of classical pieces that appear in the film. The first is Beethoven‘s Symphony No. 6 Pastorale as performed by Istanbul’s National Conservatory Orchestra (free download in link). The second is Soave sia il vento, from Mozart‘s opera Così fan tutte, which I’ve included in its entirety at the end of the podcast. Listen to it while walking down the street and watch as everyone becomes more attractive.
  • Regarding the age question that both we and the movie raise – Elizabeth Olsen was around 22 when this film was shot. Josh Radnor was 37, and Allison Janney was 52.
  • The book shop owner is played by Elizabeth Reaser of Twilight fame. And it all comes full circle.

Listen above, or download: Liberal Arts (right-click, save as, or click/tap to play on a non-flash browser).

SIFF Roundup: “Extraterrestrial”, “John Dies at the End”

Poster for "Extraterrestrial"
It appears I can cross “alien invasion sex comedy” off my dwindling list of unseen genre mashups. This is the latest small-budget feature from Nacho Vigalondo, the Spanish writer/director behind the tense and violent 2007 sci-fi thriller Timecrimes – another brilliant film that otherwise has so little in common with the director’s sophomore effort that the connection seems scarcely worth mentioning. While Los Cronocrimenes was driven by a taut and carefully scripted sci-fi plotline, Extraterrestre merely uses the backdrop of an alien invasion to frame a sexy rom-com.

Julio (Julián Villagrán) wakes up in the apartment and bed of Julia (Michelle Jenner), following an awkward one-night stand only made more so by the fact that neither of the two can remember anything about the night before – including, indeed, whether or not they even had sex. This question becomes a bit more important when a pair of interested parties arrive – Ángel (Carlos Areces), a nosy neighbor with a serious crush on Julia, and Carlos (Raúl Cimas), her long-distance boyfriend. With the streets of Madrid empty and the downtown core beneath a mile-wide alien spaceship, this essentially becomes a locked-room romantic comedy. Julio and Julia explore their newfound, philandering chemistry, Ángel deftly demonstrates why he can’t get the girl, and Carlos, a steadfast survivalist, obliviously plans the group’s next move.

Don’t get me wrong, these characters sound a bit cookie-cutter, but the entire first act of this film is brilliantly written. The film fits right into that nice Zombieland niche in which ordinary characters are tossed together amusingly amid extraordinary circumstances. Sure, the world might be coming to an end, but can’t we still engage in petty bickering over who f’d whom? All of the cuckolding drama is a bit celebratory of bad behavior, but the plot maintains just the right tone of naughty fun to avoid feeling too mean-spirited. Even with a merciless love-quadrangle, the film has an impressive amount of heart, and makes you genuinely care about each of the four characters at least some of the time.

The problem is, these characters get kicked out of the film one by one. We definitely needed time for the core romance – if that is what it is – to grow, but at least one of the rival characters had to get short shrift, and it really wasn’t the one I expected. One of them veers just a bit too much off the rails in the third act, and it isn’t the guy with the tennis ball launcher. While this bit of screwball comedy was still entertaining, it does feel just a bit like the film is turning on its characters as they begin to strain likeability even further.

Fortunately, Extraterrestrial manages to stick the landing. The ending is sweet and seems tonally appropriate, concluding with a gorgeous sunset shot that just about perfectly sums up the film. Save the interstellar warfare for the Americans…we’re just here to hang out in Madrid.

FilmWonk rating: 7.5/10
Extraterrestrial will be playing a couple more times at SIFF, and staying for at least a weeklong Seattle run at SIFF Cinema when the festival concludes. If you’re interested in seeing the film in your town, you can also “demand it” by visiting this link.

Poster for "John Dies At the End"

John Dies at the End is pure, unadulterated insanity. I saw it at midnight under the influence of 9 hours of road-trip driving, a shot of Jägermeister, a glass of hefeweizen, and a 12-oz can of Red Bull (in that order), which might just comprise an ideal viewing experience. The film features the bizarre, drug-fueled, stream-of-consciousness journey of David Wong (Chase Williamson) and John Cheese (Rob Mayes), a pair of bros who dabble in paranormal investigation. Their recent discovery is a drug called “soy sauce”, which, when injected, enables the user to see into other places, times, dimensions, etc.

The drug is basically whatever the plot needs it to be from moment to moment, operating variably as a means of clairvoyance, precognition, telekinesis, and so on. But really, that’s fine. The drug is no different in principle than demonic possession, alien invasion, or any number of other paranormal plot devices. What keeps this movie stampeding along is not plot convention but an immense sense of kinetic fun and a commitment to remain at least semi-coherent. Don Coscarelli‘s strong low-budget visuals (which he previously demonstrated in Bubba Ho-Tep) are out in full force here. Even the most ridiculous practical effects and creatures manage to strike a nice balance between laughable and menacing. The film felt almost like an R-rated take on Ghostbusters, with the main duo seemingly quite knowledgeable about all things paranormal, despite the insane, bumbling adventure on which they must embark.

The film utilizes a number of clever devices, including phone calls displaced in time, demons who appear as different people depending on who’s looking, and even a clever reference to the Grandfather’s Axe paradox. There was seemingly a great deal of care and intelligence that went into this psychotic romp. It feels like a meticulously constructed doll, woven by a maniac into a tattered conglomeration of twigs and human hair, which he brushes lovingly every night before he goes to bed. Perhaps he calls it Sheila. Or Brutus. And then one night, he decides to use it as a quill with which to pen his manifesto on the padded walls of his suburban living room, using an ink composed principly of his own urine.

I’m pretty sure that’s an accurate summation.

FilmWonk rating: 7-ish out of 10