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Sunday, April 22, 2018

AFF 2018: Best of the Fest - Short Films

Perhaps my favorite thing about going to film festivals is the unique opportunity to see short films. Shorts are such a wonderful format for telling a story and are often more engaging and memorable than their feature counterparts. This year at the Atlanta Film Festival I had the opportunity to see over forty short films; here are some of the best of the bunch. Please visit the websites and support these filmmakers by seeking out their work and following what they do next!

directed by Christopher Winterbauer, USA, 19:45
Official Site

This short takes place in a weird version of 1995 in which boys and girls are fitted with a collar that monitors their sexual progress and only comes off once they've reached specific levels. For Wyrm, "popping his collar" means having his first kiss, and he's only got two days left to do it or face being the only kid in his grade that still has a collar. This one is hilarious, super stylish, and really clever. It's full of color, but utilizes every tool available to make this world as deadpan as possible, and the results are memorable and laugh out loud funny.

基石 (Fundamental)
directed by Shih-Chieh Chiu, Taiwan, 7:10
Official Site

This animated short tracks a young man's relationship with religion in an abstract but wholly recognizable way. He fears the judgment of the priest and so babbles in tongues to try to fit in, feels guilty about masturbating, and gets stuck in a cycle of guilt and asking for the church's forgiveness in the film's especially effective climax. Fundamental is smart, funny, and frightening all at once, and the animation style and strong editing are perfectly suited to tell this story.

Tête à Tête
directed by Natasha Tonkin, United Kingdom, 7:41
Official Site

The concept is simple enough: a family struggles to connect with each other while their phones dominate their lives. The animation style is super unique though, using black and white stop motion for the faces, hands and objects while their bodies and the setting are all in color and use life size models. It's eye-catching and works perfectly when it uses this style to portray phone activity visually, at times even having the Instagram posts create a literal wall between the characters.

Negative Space
directed by Max Porter & Ru Kuwahata, France, 5:30
Official Site

This stop-motion animated short tells the story of a man whose connection with his father is explored through their shared love of carefully packing a suitcase before a trip. The narrator shows us the various techniques–what to fold and what to roll, how to keep shoes from dirtying up the clothes underneath, etc.–and the animation that portrays it all is lush and fun. The real treat here is how this simple idea grows into larger, beautiful concepts, like the suitcase's contents acting as waves on a beach, or the car that the father leaves in pulling the zipper closed on the suitcase for the next trip. The ending of the film is poignant and touching, and shows that even something as mundane as packing a bag might be a cherished key to remembering a loved one.

directed Sara Litzenberger, USA, 2:49
Official Site

This lovely animated short aims to explain why we still don't have a clear picture of Sasquatch: because he's very picky about how he looks in photographs. Undiscovered is cute, funny, and ingenious. The animation style, reminiscent of the comic Lumberjanes, is gorgeous and smartly minimalistic, and the vocal performances are just perfect. This one is super fun!

Dream Phone
directed by Kendra Lohr, USA, 3:43
Official Site

This experimental short (which you can see in its entirety above) is a wild tribute to the weird look and feel of old dating board games and PSAs. The animation is comprised out of a mix of archival footage, magazine clippings, and scribbly drawings and the blend is mesmerizing and super fun. It's narrated by the theme songs from these bizarre games and voice overs from these and PSAs: "When you open the door, will your mystery date be a dream or a dud?" There's an odd sense of fantastical romance throughout that's really interesting.

directed by Sam Gurry, USA, 1:07
Official Site

This micro short is described in this way: "I was in a bowling league in third grade where I routinely rolled my ball into the next lane and ate a lot of cheese fries." This perfectly describes the fun of this one, which is animated with LPBA (Ladies Professional Bowling Association) trading cards from the early '90s. It plays a lot like a music video, with the music being a dirty recording of a punk song all about making strikes and spares. This is one minute of film that I could watch a hundred times and shows the sheer enjoyment that experimental filmmaking can provide.

Arlo Alone
directed by Nicole Dorsey, Canada, 16:28
In a future in which strong UV radiation prevents people from leaving their homes, Arlo grows increasingly lonely despite her constant texting and video calls. After an accident, her health insurance sends an "emergency contact," a woman trained to take care of someone in place of an actual friend or family member. Arlo Alone is excellently designed and performed, and sits firmly in the camp of classic science fiction. In many ways, it is reminiscent of Black Mirror, and has some interesting ideas I haven't seen before.

Souls of Totality
directed by Richard Raymond, USA, 18:44

On the day of the recent Solar Eclipse, a cult prepares to "exit this plane" during the cosmic event. A woman and her partner's excitement for the event is dashed when she is given the responsibility of staying behind to guide the next group for the next eclipse. It's an interesting concept on its own, but the ending of the film which consists of a long take that was literally filmed during the eclipse totality as the light dims and returns is both stunning and incredibly impressive. Talk about only having one chance to get it right!
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