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SIFF Short Films – WTF?

May 30, 2011

The Burning Wigs of Sedition with The Extra Action Marching Band. Awesome!

I really wanted to write a compelling and interesting review of the Seattle International Film Festival Shorts from the “WTF?” lineup that would inspire people to go see the next screening. But in the infinite wisdom of the programmers of SIFF, there was only one screening. WTF? Way to promote shorts!

(It’s a great film festival, regardless.)

I love shorts. LOVE them. I love film in general, but am passionate about shorts and documentaries, two genres for which there is no market and pretty much no way to make money. As a result, they are always labors of love and passion. When done right, they are perfect little gems of art and emotion that leave you fully sated. They remind us that it’s quality that matters, not quantity. The are what the word ‘efficient’ means.

Anyway, just because I can’t resist, here is a HIGHLY truncated and more flippant review of last nights shorts, mostly because I believe they deserve review and attention.

1. All Flowers in Time. Written and directed by Jonathan Caouette and starring Chloe Sevingy. This 14 minute pseudo horror flick celebrated the time-honored tradition of Flailing Garbage with clear influences of Reactionary Bullshit and Pompous Exhibitionist. It had no plot, no point, no through-line, no character development, no consistent visual themes and the already chaotic nature of it was periodically interrupted by disjointed hallucinations that must have been childhood fetishes of an arrogant filmmaker whose only goal was to try and shock people. It was shocking, indeed, that anyone programmed this film into any festival. One assumes it is because Chloe Sevingy is in it. Unfortunately, this called into question the judgement of the jury that selected it, which is a bad thing when it’s the first film, since it sets the tone for the evening. I’m guessing the shorts programmers are young film-school students who are easily impressed by anything that seems “alternative” and don’t yet have the courage to call something crap, just in case someone who actually understands it thinks it’s brilliant. I’m nervous about the rest of the evening at this point.

2. Love Birds. Written and Directed by Brian Lye. I wanted to not like this, but it just won me over, no matter how I tried to resist it. Filmed in the Czech Republic, with czech actors, this gem cast humans as birds, and we, without a single word spoken,  see the painful similarities between the mating rituals of birds and humans, and how our fates are ultimately intertwined in a tragically delicious way. This film did what a short should do – asked and answered a single simple question. The real magic, however, was the actors. These naked and contorted humans were convincingly birdlike and I was totally engrossed in watching them. When it ended, I said to my friend, “that was an awesome acting class exercise.” I was gratified when the filmmaker informed us that it had, in fact, been an acting class exercise. This film was humble and real and just twisted enough to shock us in a totally organic, almost accidental, manner.

3. Brick Novax’s Diary. Written and Directed by Matt Piedmont. This is the autobiography of a Ken Doll named Brick Novax who is dying in a plastic motel. Though visually entertaining, it really wasn’t anything more than a kid playing “house” with his plastic toys and filming it. It didn’t totally suck, but it didn’t really do anything else either. When all was said and done, this would have been a great HUMP film. But as a short film in an excellent film festival, it really wasn’t up to snuff. Pretty sure my friend slept through this one.

4. Meat or Die.  This was two minutes of nirvana delivered in a brightly colored capsule of Japanese dystopia.  I have no idea what it was about, but it was very much like being trapped inside a video game in which brightly colored creatures are either eating each other or mating, or both. Not clear. But I was sad when it was over. At least partly because I realized I was not actually high, just thought I was for two minutes, and it might have been better to actually be high, just in case they snuck in more total suckitude like that Chloe Sevigny crap.

5. Out of Nowehere. Written and directed by Will Lamborn. This 19-minute film would have made a really great 9-minute film. Visually stunning, it had the visuals of old Kodachrome snapshots from the 1960’s, which was a fitting allegory for a piece in which the main character keeps getting stuck in time with people whose memories are hauntingly awful. Sadly, the “stuck in time” device just went on too long, as nothing ever actually happened and eventually I just didn’t care whether he got “out” or not. It was a clever idea that tried to be too big and just stayed flaccid. One of those overly indulgent “look how clever I am” flicks that you expect in film school, but shouldn’t have graduated to the next level.

6. Time Freak. Written and directed by Andrew Bowler. I loved this one. Although it also used the “look how clever I am” device of playing with time, it used it to show how silly people are when they try to do that. Like Love Birds, this film had a very simple premise and didn’t try to outgrow it. When a young man builds a time machine in order to go visit Ancient Rome, he gets distracted when using it to just re-do a single morning in which he kept doing stupid things – like saying inane things to a girl he has a crush on. Not moralistic, not preachy, not fancy. Just people realizing that we never get it right, no matter how much time we have. Great script. Great acting. Great premise. Simple.

7. Howard From Ohio. Written and directed by SJ Chiro. (Disclaimer, she’s a friend and I think she’s awesome. This is the first I’ve seen of her work, and I was terrified that it would suck, then what would I say?) This was, by far, the strongest film in the shorts program. (Phew!) Like the other good shorts, it had a simple idea, captured a simple moment, did it genuinely and resonated on a human level. Two people meet online and agree to have an affair. He’s married, she lives elsewhere, this film is the moment of their one and only encounter. We have exactly enough story to know how and why it happened, as well as how and why it will never happen again. In general, I’m not a fan of stories that are narrated rather than portrayed. In this case, however, the only thing that matters is her perception of the situation, it is her story, and the narration was so perfectly written that it made you cringe. It told the story without telling you how to feel about it. And then it ended. With superbly natural acting and movement through time, this was like watching a friend do something you know is bad for them (even though you say you want to stay out of their drama), and hoping that you can learn from it. I can honestly say that this is one of the best short films I’ve ever seen. It was no more or less than it needed to be.

8. The Burning Wigs of Sedition. By Anna Fitch and Simon Cheffins. I have no idea what this was, but I didn’t want it to end after 10 minutes. This sensory orgy is roughly what I would expect if Peter Greenaway made a music video. As far as I can tell, there was a little story written almost entirely to justify making a short film about drunk steam-punky pirates eating, beating and fucking on a ship, with a chicken and the entire Extra Action Marching Band. This was a totally cohesive and credible world, made real with incredible sets and costumes, music, dancing and plundering of all manners. It could easily be argued that it was more music video than short film – certainly it was the exact opposite of Howard From Ohio and Love Birds. But as an artistic creation of moving pictures, it was simply fantastic. If you don’t know the Extra Action Marching Band, you’re missing out, they’re awesome. (The caveat here is that I’m a Burner, and I know Burners when I see them in pirate costumes eating each other. So this made sense to me because it was of, by and about ‘my people.’)

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