Senescent Shorts: Exploring the Motif of Aging in Film

This year, the subject of aging was a particularly prevalent theme in the Festival’s short film selection.  Two films of interest not only extend this motif in their films, but also incorporate specific cultural influence to senescence.

The first of these films is Obake (Ghosts), featured in Showcase 4, which avails the ubiquitous burden of death to shape a story that implements both Japanese and Hawaiian influences.  The film’s creator, Christopher Yogi, cites his main source of inspiration for the film to be the death of his grandfather and his “personal experience of death in the family.”  Yogi strived to capture some of his own experience in this film that depicts a dying man’s moments of reflection and vivid recollections of life in his youth.

“Watching someone pass away, that moment when they are both here and not here, dreaming and awake, is such a powerful, profound experience. I wanted to make a film that captured that feeling — sad, haunting and beautiful.”

Yogi references the Japanese phrase mono no aware, “the awareness of the transience of things,” as the film’s “guiding principle.”  The director also wished to pay homage to the Hawaiian people with the production of this film,

“I made this film for the people of Hawaii. And to honor the 2nd generation Japanese Americans, my grandparents’ generation, who really built Hawaii into the place that it is today.”

 

Furet, Innbitt (Ideologies) of Showcase 12, employs perhaps the antithetical tact to depict coping with aging.  The film’s writer and director, Norweigian, Jarl Omestad, took a topic that sparked his own interest, the ideological battle of the Cold War—Liberalism versus Communism—and developed it into his film’s comedic concept.  Omestad explains his inspiration,

“I started to play with the thought of forcing persons filled up with different ideological values together in a public institution, and the nursing home was perfect. But I decided to settle this universe in a Norwegian nursing home.”

The film centers on the imaginative battles of two WWII veterans living in a group nursing home.  The “old and stubborn men fight as if they were 20 years old,” Omestad says, but in the end they realize their eccentric, yet genuine friendship, despite their staunch opposing beliefs.  Of the film’s amusing charm, Omestad says, “It is a story and a situation that perhaps makes people think getting old is not a big deal after all, on the contrary it can be a very playful part of life.”

 

Omestad succeeds in his aim to take “satirical look at the 1900’s and the Cold War,” with the humorous depiction of “two old men play[ing] out warfare in a nursing home corridor.”

These films, in addition to the many others that relay the motif of aging, are sure to be appreciated by audiences young and old for their poignancy and relevance.

 

By:  Hadley Fielding

 

Wonders from Down Under: Australian Films at DC Shorts

As an international film festival, DC Shorts has the pleasure of welcoming film submissions from filmmakers around the globe.  In the 2012 festival, we are featuring the distinguished work of a handful of filmmakers from Down Under.

While filmmaking exists as a universal art form, there are striking differences between the film and arts scene in Australia compared to the United States.  Aussie, Joe Hughes and creator of the short, Devoted Husband, explains, “Most feature films in Australia are at least partly funded by the government.  Because our population is so small, we just can’t compete with the US, so we need government support.”  Jordan Fong, the filmmaker behind Cool Toys, adds, “It seems as though projects are more likely to get funding if your film touches on social issues.”

Fong is a 3rd generation Chinese American and filmed his short while on a one-year collegiate study abroad program in Australia.  Working in Australia has allowed Fong to garner a newfound appreciation for the global filmmaking scene.  Australia also offered its own influence in the social implications of Fong’s film, which depicts two young boys’ play date with an old revolver.  Fong says,

“On a broader scale it [the film] does touch on guns but not very directly.  In Australia gun control is extremely strict and it’s almost impossible for normal citizens to acquire a permit.  If it were up to me I would push for laws closer to those of Australia rather than the ones we have here in the U.S.”

 

 

Cockatoo’s director, Matthew Jenkin, elaborates on the Australian arts scene and the struggle the country faces due to Hollywood’s polarizing influence,

“Australians love film but as a whole, we seem to be a bit impartial to our own films.  Many films struggle to get cinema releases here due to the influx of Hollywood films.  But from time to time we get a ‘Shine’ or ‘Priscilla’ or ‘Animal Kingdom’ that really stands out from the pack.”

Australia also possesses a quirky sense of humor in its films. Cockatoo, for one, is about a man who hires a call girl on the six-month anniversary of his recent break-up to recreate a falsified experience with his ex.  Interestingly, Jenkin derived his influence for the films from actual newspaper ads.  He explains,

“I was reading a newspaper article about a companion service that is offered in Sydney. If you’re lonely and would like someone to join you when you go shopping or to the movies or the museum, you can contact an agency that will match you up with a ‘friend.’ The article also sighted a similar service in Japan where men who are soon to get married could hire a woman to play their future wife in order to prepare them for married life.”

 

 

Jenkin also discloses that the idea for the film “started as a dark drama/thriller.”  However, with the feedback of one of his “mates,” he was inspired to transform the burgeoning story into a comedy.

David Pyefich’s jocular farce, Showing the Ropes, about a hangman in Old England is also exemplary of the Aussie sense of humor; Pyefinch describes his short as “a whimsical film about a very bleak period in history.”  He elaborates,

“We are all influenced by the different things that our own home countries bring to us. I think Australian’s are great at irony for instance and I think we also excel at offbeat and observational humour; if I can carry that tradition on – well that would make me proud to be Australian!”

 

 

Pyefinch certainly carried that Australian legacy in his film, and cites the eccentric and wry irony of the Coen Brothers as a major artistic influence.

In the words of Joe Hughes, “Australia has an incredible wealth of film making talent and actors.  Our industry is tiny compared to the US, but I think that breeds a greater determination in the film making community. I’m proud to be part of it!”  It is filmmakers such as these that foster and promote the incredible artistic talent that comes from a country under-recognized for its cinematic ingenuity.

 

By:  Hadley Fielding

 

Uncovering Scarce Art Forms: Films about Lost Crafts

The world is becoming increasingly industrialized and mechanized as each year goes by.  Miscellaneous trades, crafts and art forms have become lost with the advent of our technological age.  This topic of lost crafts was of particular concern to three filmmakers who created films that serve to challenge a world of stock imitation.

The first of these films is Look to the Cookie; screening in Showcase 4, this film takes a look at the family owned and century old Glaser’s Bake Shop in Manhattan, NY.  Glaser’s is one of the few scratch bakeries left in the city and a jewel in the crown for that reason.  The astute direction of filmmaker Lindsay Lindenbaum brought the nonfiction narrative to the screen.  In the documentary short, Lindenbaum conducts a personal interview with the now 3rd generation owner, Herb Glaser, and chronicles the baking ace in his workshop/confectionery.  Lindenbaum describes Glaser’s laudable process,

“The way Herb Glaser maneuvers his way around the kitchen, deftly shaping each piece of dough for his Apricot Butter Crunch Squares, and meticulously icing his infamous Black and White cookies is truly an art in itself, and one that I tried to capture on film.”

 

 

Lindenbaum believes that the film’s subject matter is redolent of a bygone way of life, and the film’s “universal themes” are applicable to many.

“While this film takes place in New York, one need not have to be a New Yorker to relate to these themes of feeling lost in such an increasingly modernized world and longing for the past. While businesses that rely on mechanization are essential to our day-to-day lives, I do feel like in many cases, there’s something that gets lost in the process. Even if something takes ten times longer to create by hand, there’s much more of a connection between the consumer and the creator of the product as well as a deep appreciation of the craft. I think we’ll really be missing out if we lose that.”

In Everything is Incredible, included in Showcase 7, three visionary craftsmen, Tyler Bastian, Trevor Hill and Tim Skousen, delineate the true account of an indigent Honduran man named Agustin who has devoted his life to the fanatical dream of building a helicopter.  Agustin has faced a life of ridicule for his steadfast commitment to erecting this personal grail.  Bastian attributes the consistent condemnation to the fact that Agustin’s “success was measured as flying and not persevering.”  Agustin has certainly persevered in keeping his dream alive for the last 53 years.  Bastian cites a “loss of patience and a loss of the ability to keep at tedious tasks” with the plight of an ever-expanding world based on industry and uniform efficiency.

 

 

Accompanying Everything is Incredible in Showcase 7 is Paul Houston’s documentary short, McKenzie, which follows veteran silkscreen artist Jeff McKenzie at work in his small Oklahoma City, based screen-printing business, McKenzie & Company.  McKenzie got his start in screen-printing in the early 1970’s.  In the film, he expressed his amazement at how little the trade has changed in the last 40 years.  And while the art form has been challenged by the development of automated technology, McKenzie has successfully withstood any mechanized competition in order to carry on the cultivation of a personal passion and art form.

 

 

These films extend an appreciation for the artistic wonders still abiding in a world regretfully falling victim to insipid homogeneity.

 

By:  Hadley Fielding

 

 

Starstruck Shorts: Celebrity Films at DC Shorts

This year DC Shorts is thrilled to showcase six films that feature the work of some renowned artists in the film business.  As I watched the films, I was struck with questions surrounding their shared component of celebrity—How do shorts featuring such prominent actors differ from shorts with unknown actors?  Do these films require higher budgets and longer production phases?  Surely I assumed, yes.  Yet, I was surprised and enlightened on the reality of my guesswork after speaking to some of these very gifted filmmakers.

I was fortunate to interview Marc Brener, creator of the Hollywood satire, Say It Ain’t Solo, featured in Showcase 13.  The film depicts the story of a father (Stephen Tobolowsky) and son (Josh Brener—Brener’s younger brother) who attempt to derail the production of a Star Wars remake.  In Brener’s words his inspiration for the film centers on the storyline itself, “Every movie seems like it’s a remake these days.”  Brener’s short featured an ensemble cast of Hollywood entertainers, all of whom he had in mind and were happy to take part in the film.  Hosting a relatively famous cast, Christopher Lloyd, Malin Akerman, Jason Alexander, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Joe Mantegna, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Kunal Nayyar, was not as huge a financial undertaking as one might suspect.  Through the Screen Actor’s Guild Short Film Agreement, Brener was able to negotiate working with these actors affordably, which assisted him in retaining a low budget.  And while the film was shot over the course of a year, there were only “eight or nine shooting days,” according to Brener.  Brener cites his intended audience as, “Star wars fans, overall movie lovers and inside Hollywood.”  Film enthusiasts will certainly appreciate this film, and hopefully the powers that be in Hollywood will recognize the hackneyed and superfluous amount of remakes being produced in their studios today.

 

 

Another film in the 7th Showcase not only features the acting chops of Hollywood charmer, Adam Brody, known for his break out role in Fox’s The O.C., and roles in films such as In the Land of Women and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but was written by famed director, screenwriter and playwright, Neil LaBute.  I was given the opportunity to speak to LaBute and the film’s director, Nathaniel Krause about what it was like to make the short film, Double or Nothing.

 

 

The short depicts a typical spat between a couple Clark (Brody) and girlfriend Becca (Louisa Krause—LaBute’s sister), which progressively evokes a great deal of uncertainty and surprise in the viewer.  The theme of the unexpected is consistent with LaBute’s inspiration for the film, which he imparts,

“I wanted to do something that went in one direction then surprised the viewer by being about something else–a diversion that I’ve employed a number of times as a writer and very much enjoy as a reader and/or audience member.  In this case what looked like a racial/economic conflict turned out to be something very different.”

LaBute’s script was enough to stimulate Krause’s inspiration as a director.

“As the director, the inspiration came from the script.  What immediately drew me in was the raw nature of the interaction between the three characters; Clark, Becca and the homeless man.  Without giving too much away, I felt there was an underlying truth behind Clark’s ploy—something a lot of people can relate to (at least those who have found themselves in a relationship they would rather not be apart of).  As such, I wanted to tow a line between both despising Clark’s actions and being charmed and oddly familiar with them.”

Both LaBute and Krause agree that it was the collaboration of the filmmaking team, “the people who come together to make it happen,” as Krause says, that made the film a success.  This includes the work of the actors.  Of Brody, Krause said, “Adam was a pleasure to work with.  He is an extremely open and fearless actor willing to take risks and explore all avenues of a character.”  The role of Becca, Clark’s girlfriend, was written for actress, Louisa Krause.  Thanks to producer Andrew Carlberg, they were able to get Brody onboard for the film.

To my surprise the film was not a high-budget short, and it was shot in only 8 hours—the biggest challenge Krause faced when making the film.  However, the film was a success.  Krause, the director, hopes that audiences will leave the theatre with more “questions than answers,” and commends LaBute’s writing with this thoughtful sentiment,

“The beauty of Neil LaBute’s writing is that—as in life—it ultimately poses more questions than answers.  It is simply my intention to give the audience an intimate look at a situation that exposes some of the surprising motives behind an individual’s actions.  It reveals why sometimes those we know best can act in ways we least expect.  In that respect, despite the disrespectful way in which the protagonist behaves, the charm he inherently exhibits is meant to maintain his relatability showing that we may not all be that unalike; what truly separates us is how we deal with our similar thoughts and fears.”

Friend Request Pending of Showcase 3 is a particularly noteworthy film directed by Chris Foggin, and written and produced by Chris Croucher.  The film stars British screen and stage icon Judi Drench, as Mary, a lonely senior citizen navigating the new frontier of social networking in search of love.  The story has an authenticity that is perhaps partly amassed by Croucher’s inspiration for the story, “Put simply, my Mum!”  He elaborates saying,

“She has recently started social networking and watching her learn really fascinated me. This very ‘of now’ story about how older generations deal with what for my generation is an everyday occurrence is funny and heartwarming. The way we all communicate now has changed completely and I am intrigued by the digital revolution and it’s impact on dating. The game has changed.”

 

 

Dench brought that inspiration and Croucher’s idealized character to life.  Croucher commends Dench as a key factor to the film’s success, in addition to its “very real and funny take on a very modern reality; Silver surfer dating.”

Of working with Dench, Croucher gushes, “She is a dream, so funny and just how you imagine she would be in person.”

In terms of getting Dench onboard for the film, Chris Foggin, the film’s director, had developed a working relationship with the actress through previous productions.  Croucher was lucky enough to have Dench as his muse for the script, as Foggin had spoken to her ahead of time about the project.  Croucher recounts these dealings with wistful reminiscence,

“When we started on the short, we showed her [Dench] the script, she said yes and a few months later we said ‘Turnover.’  If only everything in life was that simple.”

The film certainly garnered attention for its star, however this did not determine the film’s expenses, which Croucher quotes as “relatively cheap,” around $8,000.

Scott Schaefer’s film, The Carrier, screening in Showcase 3, features performances by three famed names in the business, Rita Wilson, Chad Michael Murray and Anna Paquin.  The film depicts the posthumous implications of an STD carrier, Thatcher (Murray).  Schaefer reveals “legacy” to be the impetus for the film, “I am always intrigued by legacy.  What items or stories that people leave behind.  I feel that this is the ultimate legacy story.”

 

 

Certainly a mother (Wilson) obliged to deal with the death and subsequent discovery of her son’s HIV infection is burdensome, and carries a degree of weight on the remnants of the past.  The film articulates a significance that lingers even after the credits roll, and with that comes natural contemplation on the film’s subject matter.  Schaeffer hopes the audience will “walk out of the theatre wanting more, involved in discussions about what do you think happened next.”

On working with Wilson, Murray and Paquin, Schaeffer extols the trio.

“It was amazing.  They have all been in the business for quite some time and they are amazing actors who were extremely professional and a blast to work with.  I was truly lucky to have them a part of the production.”

With the encouragement of Paquin, who Schaeffer was working with on another project, the film got its start.  And thanks to a casting agent, “everyone else fell into place,” Schaeffer recollects.

While Schaeffer faced challenges with the film’s costs, which amounted to a medium to high budget short, it only took a mere three and half days to shoot.

In terms of what differentiates shorts with celebrities from shorts with unknown actors, all of these filmmakers divulged in some capacity that while prominent actors certainly create more exposure for films, that does not necessarily designate a finer film.  Jonah Ansell, the creator of the animated short Cadaver, featuring the voices of Christopher Lloyd and Kathy Bates, so eloquently extends his viewpoint,

“At the end of the day, it doesn’t.  Movies are about stories.  Successful movies are about finding the right actors to help tell that story.  Great actors (regardless of their fame) are potent partners in helping you create a compelling emotional journey for your audience.  I have such a respect for actors and the talents/nuances they bring to storytelling.”

These are undeniably a superb set of filmmakers who were admittedly fortunate enough to work with experienced performers.  But it was the collaboration of the expert casts, great storylines, conscientious crews, combined with the passion and conviction of the filmmakers that made each of these films a success.

 

By:  Hadley Fielding

 

First-Time Filmmakers And Local Chefs Unite

Nothing makes watching films better than the inclusion of food. This year at DC Shorts Film Festival, foodies can sit back and relax knowing their hunger cravings are being taken care of. Local chefs have been paired up with relevant films to create complimentary one-of-a-kind snacks.  Intensity douses these films that range from the thoughtful documentary to the undeniably raunchy drama.

The average documentary about animals within the food industry would most likely be met with groans and a half-filled theater. Two documentaries, Murder Mouth and Tastes Like Chicken?, develop narratives that distinguish their films from previously preachy cinema. The accounts are personal and very real, giving audiences a chance to watch informative films and left to develop their own opinions on the matter.

“The one thing I always knew about the film was that I didn’t want it to be too fundamentalist, I wanted it to be subtle and more poetic than a simple ‘punch in the stomach,’ said first-time filmmaker Quico Meirelles, director of Tastes Like Chicken, who drew inspiration for his film from Jonathan Safran Foers’ book Eating Animals. The book describes in horrid detail the treatment of animals within the meat industry. Matchbox Chef Jacob Hunter is complimenting Tastes Like Chicken? with his signature dish of cornbread with organic honey and homemade whipped butter. It seems reasonable that the inclusion of chicken within this food pairing was not pursued.

The film is narrated by none other than a small chicken stuck in a factory farm who dreams of making it out one day. Combing shocking images and undeniably human characteristics within an otherwise unfamiliar world will surely affect many audience members. It is this power within cinema that is so desperately wanted but rarely achieved.

“I always say that I don’t expect people to stop eating chicken just because of the film, but that at least right after the screening they don’t buy a packet of McNuggets,” said Meirelles, fully appreciative of any newfound awareness the audience may encounter by viewing his film. The desire is not radical, but hopeful; that audiences will leave the theatre with an awareness not otherwise fulfilled by following the journey of an innocent feathery friend.

Good films call for discussion and can be relatable to people of various beliefs and ideals. Local filmmaker and cinephiliac Jason Fraley creates such an atmosphere with his first film Liberty Road. The film explores the impact of seemingly random acts of kindness and how they can possibly prevent an overly violent act. It could also be argued that such a description is too restrictive when describing the film. Every detail is significant and with purpose. For Fraley, a good film is one that holds layers of symbolism and grows in meaning after each viewing. The intensity of the film becomes all the more powerful because it holds a hopeful voice. When everything seems to be falling apart, the good we do as individuals does hold a strong sway in our lives.

“I want audience member to reconsider their preconceived notions about others and be a little kinder in their daily lives. I want viewers to be a little more empathetic,” said Fraley, “I want to offer a bittersweet hope that we as a people will endure.”

Liberty Road was shot in Fraleys’ hometown of Libertytown, at a local seafood restaurant where he had worked while growing up. It comes as no surprise that delicious crab cakes are paired with the film and prepared by Chef Peter Smith of PS7. The intentional layers of the film are subtle but significant. At one point in the film, the spectrum of political ideology is represented by vehicles on a road; the blue car for democracy on the left and the red car for republicans on the right. Both vehicles are cleverly divided by a solid indestructible line, representing the obvious barrier that needs lifted between the two parties. The movie, intended for all viewers, takes the heavy-duty task of merging current economic, social and political issues within a short time frame.

Having a luxurious dinner never seemed so outrageous in first-time filmmaker Per Muhlows’ Swedish drama The Order. A man orders food for his dinner in a manner that most would not tolerate but one female waitress manages to make it to dessert. Chef Nick Stefanelli of Bibiana offers a delicious Pork Sandwich on Potato Roll with the film.

Watching films is made all the more fun when disgusting, heinously behaved characters are thrust into our lives. We love to hate them and hate that we love them so. So one cannot help but jeer and scoff at the antagonist within the film. He is cruel and uncensored in a way that not even Patrick Bateman could pull off. The deliberate cruelty is offensive and immense sympathy for the protagonist grows by the minute. Viewers will feel a personal bond with the woman who is treated so cruelly in an altogether familiar environment. The restaurant was chosen as the ideal setting because of its emphasis on fulfilling a basic craving.

“Also, it was metaphorically perfect to show how we as individuals ‘feed off’ each other in various ways. Often in a positive mutually beneficial way… sometimes not,” said Muhlow, who wanted to create an emotional roller coaster within the film for an audience that will get more than what they expect. Things are not always what they seem at first, second or tenth glance. Assumptions will be made about the film, but in the end the audience may find themselves a tad surprised. It is a hard task to knock a viewer off their feet and loosen their jaw, but with The Order, it is a guarantee.

By: Shilah Alibakhshi

 

Showcase 14: Strength of Character

Successful stories possess characters of consequence and interest.  The characters on screen must entice, thereby facilitating a bond between the character and viewer that captivates the viewer’s frame of mind.  The filmmakers of Showcase 14 constructed characters (and a number of actors portrayed these characters) in such a way that is mesmerizing and attention grabbing.  Not only are these characters formidable within the context of the respective script, but they are captivating as projected images of people, of human behavior that bears truth and meaning.

 

In David Pyefich’s Australian short, Showing the Ropes, Gregory is the hangman of his village, extolled for his “talent.”  However, his profession and renown amongst the townspeople becomes threatened when his nefarious adversary develops a new hanging technique.  This jocular farce parodies turgid old English prose in its dialogue and the deplorable execution customs of the time.

 

 

In First Match, a film by Olivia Newman, Monique is about to wrestle in her first match.  As a freshman and the only girl on her high school team, she is taunted by her male teammates.  All Monique really wants is to get closer to her detached father, who was a wrestler in his youth.  Newman poignantly depicts familial struggle and the search for connection in this sports short.

 

The Capital Buzz is a documentary short that provides insight into the DC beekeeping community.  The film includes interviews with members of DC Honeybees, a non-profit organization whose mission is to develop beehives within the DC area and inform the public on the importance of the honeybee.  We even meet one member with a hive on roof of his Georgetown row house.  The film was created in a collaborative effort by students at the Institute for Documentary Filmmaking at the George Washington University.

 

In High Heels & Hoodoo, an eerie comedy written by Jocelyn Rish and directed by Brian Rish, Tiffany is determined to gain access to her deceased grandmother’s fortune.  In a zealous attempt of financial exploitation, she solicits the services of a Gullah root doctor to contact her grandmother from the grave.  Tiffany’s wish is met as her avaricious ways transport her to the land of the dead to see her Nanna once again.

 

 

An off-season Santa Clause struggles to find meaning in life without the holidays in Merry.  He explores some part-time work, but nothing seems to be as fulfilling as his work as Kris Kringle.  In this film by Conor Byrne, you’ll be rooting for this Santa to find some jolly cheer in his spare time.

 

 

Cahaya, a young girl who works as a trash collector in the slums of North Jakarta dreams of riding a bicycle in the eponymous short film, Cahaya.  She is fortunate to find part of a dilapidated bike that she makes her own.  However, she meets conflict after it becomes the envy of the neighborhood children.

 

In Cool Toys, created by Australian filmmaker Jordan Fong, Bradley and Timmy’s play date becomes the object of suspense after Bradley’s snooping leads him to discover Timmy’s father’s old revolver and bullets.  Bradley coaxes Timmy to play with the “cool” toy, and unbeknownst to their parents barbequing outside, the boys entertain some very violent mischief.  You will not be able to predict what will happen next in this tempestuous short.

 

 

In Marco Gadge’s foreign German short, Die weiße Mücke (The White Mosquito), two policemen hatch a plan to save their provincial village from a resort developer.  The two take extreme measures to derail the development, however, mother nature has another plan.  With beautiful scenery of rustic Germany, this film is engaging for its dialogue, storyline and cinematography.

 

By:  Hadley Fielding

 

Showcase 8: Defining Oneself

Some define themselves by their occupation and passions, others by their actions, relationships and personal attributes.  Every individual differs in his or her self-definition and path to self-discovery.  The nine films that comprise Showcase 8 reveal a segment of a character’s journey to self-realization and fulfillment.  The infinite forms of self-expression and self-definition are underscored in the content of these short films.  They present relatable material, allowing audience members to empathize with the characters and uncover a personal connection with the stories.

 

 

In Score, a French-Canadian film by Lawrence Côté-Collins, a couple Audrey and David, air their dirty laundry in what better a location than a Laundromat!  The two discuss the conventionalized double standards between men and women, as Audrey struggles to decide whether or not to reveal her number of sexual partners to David.  This short is sardonically witty and amusingly relatable.

 

 

Water documents the ritual of water gathering in rural Tibet, a laborious duty bestowed upon the Tibetan matriarch.  Director Bari Pearlman captures a day in the life of one Tibetan woman’s toilsome water collecting obligations.  The woman must make multiple trips a day to a potable source of water near her family’s farm and transport it back and forth by means of a wooden barrel strapped to her back.  The task is not only menial, but is physically exhausting as the barrel reaches 80-pounds when filled.

 

Mike Liu makes an original animated short about the life of a ninja and his failed attempts to find work outside his skill set in Shinobi Blues.  With animation that reminds one of a feature length Pixar film, it is easy to forget this is only a 6-minute short.  Liu is an amazing animator and storyteller, and creates an inspiring pleasure with his film.

 

Laundry Day, a film by Thayer Radic, is a short about a man and a woman who meet in a Laundromat.  They take part in a seemingly engaging conversation; however, a slight blunder proves to be a major miscommunication.  This short presents a highly relatable subject matter in such a way that is ironic and germane in today’s world.

 

 

In the Greek foreign short, Mikros Vasilias (Little King), by Socrates Alafouzos, a man’s secret childhood abuse has led him to a life of deep-seated anger and bitter resentment.  His temper is volatile and disturbing, and beckons grievous implications in his personal and professional life.  Alagouzos grippingly depicts the egregious nature of abuse and its lifelong reverberations.

 

Pierre Coffin creates a kid-friendly delight with the French animated short Brad & Gary.  In the short, Brad and Gary, two animated creatures, face some “self-adhered” binds after getting a little carried away with their routine nose picking.  They are forced to use their fingers, nostrils and other extremities to save one another from the deathly consequences of their seemingly harmless habit.  The film is also featured in this year’s free Family Showcase.

 

In The Last Animals, a film by Mary Holyoke, bees have become extinct leading to a world without food and water.  This depiction of a post-apocalyptic world is both terrifying and heart breaking, as a woman must take extreme measures to protect herself and her infant baby in order to survive.  This film is reminiscent of the jarring full-length film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel, The Road, directed by John Hillcoat and staring Viggo Mortensen.

 

 

Can’t Dance, written and directed by Richard Uhlig, is a charming atypical comedy about a forlorn widower named Stu.  After he drinks his wife’s ashes on what would have been their 40th anniversary, she comes back to life to give him some much-needed guidance in his love life.  With witty dialogue and a heartening storyline, this film reinforces a positive message about love, loss and moving on.

 

 

Jeremy Smith creates a hilarious teenage comedy with 10 and 2.  The short’s main character, Wilbur, a nerdy and apprehensive teenager, is having a rough time of it in Driver’s Ed.  During his first driving lesson, in an unlikely turn of events, two rowdy thugs hijack his car.  He is forced to be their driver in what turns into a rollicking high-speed chase that may, or may not have been just the instruction Wilbur needed.

 

By:  Hadley Fielding

 

Showcase 12: Manifestions of the Creative Mind

Showcase 12 brings eight individual stories to the screen, all of them  born out of their filmmaker’s personal seed of inspiration.  Each is brought to life on screen through a variety of approaches and methods of artistry.  The diversity of the stories told yields an appreciation for the creative mind of the filmmaker, and the multitude of ways that creativity can be expressed.  Each film possesses its own story of birth, the story behind the story; what becomes a manifestation of the creative mind.

 

Try A Little Harder is short film written and directed by Antonia Grilikhes-Lasky and depicts a struggling artist, Tracy, who is frustrated by doubts about his unfinished art.  After spiteful words from his girlfriend, Wendy, he fails to inform her that part of his art, a maxi pad, is stuck to her backside.  Tracy’s wry wit and Wendy’s dim-wittedness compliment one another to create weird, hysterically funny moments that make this film worth watching.

 

Viral, a documentary short by Dustin Waldman examines the implications of the advent of the Internet, specifically the YouTube sensation.  The film provides analysis into the development of the fame game via the social networking and entertainment site.  The film also features interviews with some of YouTube’s royalty and provides a detailed commentary on this 21st century phenomenon.

 

Ferngesteuert (Controlled) is a dramatic short film from German director Hendrik Maximilian Schmitt.  The film centers on a teenage boy named Maik who is brought to therapy after committing violent indiscretions against a foreigner.  Maik is forced to reflect upon and relive the events leading up to his lapse in judgment, and struggles to voice his recollections in order to protect his best friend and accomplice, Thomas.  The story evocatively delineates the affliction and paralyzing fear that control can place on an individual.

 

Outside My Window is a short directed by Carlo De Rosa.  The film flashes between an elderly man who watches the object of his affection from his apartment window to the same man as he was in his youth and his dreamlike memories of a lost love.  In the place of dialogue, the film features music by the band, Jeremy Buck & The Buck, which gives the film the feel of a well-crafted music video.

 

Advancing Age is a comedy-horror by Austin Bragg, which was made in part for the Washington, DC: 48 Hour Film Festival.  Bragg stars in the film about a man who is haunted by a balloon on his 30th birthday.  The film is witty, original and was astoundingly made in only two days.

 

The Christmas Tree, a heart wrenching film by Angel Kristi Williams, potently illustrates life’s difficulties with authenticity and candor.  In the film, a divorced father, Warren, is left with some difficult choices after the Christmas tree he buys for his young daughter is stolen.  Unable to afford another tree, Warren must decide what to do and deal with the perceived disappointment of his daughter at his side.

 

In Furet, Innbitt (Ideologies), a film by Jarl Omestad, Norwegian veterans living in a group nursing home take pleasure in reliving their glory days in WWII by taking part in lively imaginative battles.  Despite heart attacks and strokes they cease to relinquish their horseplay, especially after a former Nazi is admitted.  DC Shorts is proud and honored to host Furet, Innbitt in its world premiere!

 

After his girlfriend breaks up with him indiscriminately and inopportunely, Josh is desperate to find a new roommate to maintain his rent in What’s Life Got To Do with It?.  However, he finds no ordinary roommate, he finds a zombie.  This complete and utter satire is a laugh-out-loud funny and bears a triple-threat performance by Josh Weisberg, who writes, stars and co-directs (along with Cameron Fife).

 

By:  Hadley Fielding

 

Behind the Animation: Spirited Storytellers at DC Shorts

This year we welcome over a dozen extraordinary animators to the festival selection.  The 14 animated shorts come from directors around the world, who each offer unique animation styles and various influences from their respective backgrounds and cultures.  I was amazed at the differing animation styles and techniques of each of the films.

One animator of particular interest, Grant Orchard, used not one, but three distinct animation styles in his short, A Morning Stroll, featured in the 5th showcase.  The film took a full two years to produce.  In Orchard’s own words, “Basically it [the film] is a love story between a man and a chicken, a love story that spans 100 years.”

 

 

Orchard elaborates on the animation styles saying, “We tried to use different aesthetic and animation styles for each section. The film is divided into 3 sections that are based in 3 different time periods. So we wanted each section’s style to represent the period it was set in. For example, the first part is set in 1959, so the animation has a certain Max Fleisher, traditional 2D feel. While the 2009 section was made using a lower polygon count; a bit like those Second Life avatars.  That was there to reflect the use of mobile technology and content that features quite heavily in that part.  The third section was just meant to look as real as possible, even though it’s the section that has the least bearing on reality.”

He cites “Flash, After Effects, Photoshop, Softimage” amongst the many programs used to make the film.

I was still wondering, though, why the chicken?  Orchard said that his inspiration for the film came from an extract of a book called True Tales of American Life, edited by Paul Auster.  A Morning Stroll is not an adaptation of Auster’s work, but rather provided Orchard with a thought that became the genesis for the animated short.

“It’s a paragraph story; really really short. And there’s one line in it that got me thinking – which is ‘a chicken walks down a busy city street.’ It’s a bit like the old joke – ‘why did the chicken cross the road?’  The thought of a chicken walking down a city street like Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy made me smile, and got me thinking about the blanks either side of that. Why is a chicken walking down a city street? Where is it going? Where has it been?”

Orchard also references a book by Raymond Queneau called Exercises in Style, as an equally influential source of inspiration and attributes it specifically to how he harnessed the idea of filming the short in three segments.

“It [Exercises in Style] retells the fairly ordinary story of a man on a bus 99 times in 99 different styles.  So, I thought telling this fairly ordinary story of a chicken walking down a city street 3 times, in 3 different time periods, in 3 different styles would be an interesting experiment.”

While it may seem like the film yields some abstruse message, Orchard says earnestly, “There’s no direct message. It’s honestly just an attempt to create something unique and surprising. It might or might not have achieved that, but that was the ambition.”  Orchard hopes simply that the film will “surprise people and make them laugh.”  The film is sure to do just that.

As part of the 8th showcase, another animator, Mike Liu, brings an Asian ninja to life in his short, Shinobi Blueswith computer animation analogous to that of a Pixar film  Amazingly, Liu created nearly the entire short on his own.  This exhaustive list of tasks comprises concept, story, design, modeling, animation, texturing, rigging, compositing, lighting and direction.  Liu elucidated on his filmmaking process and how he achieved such a feat, saying that he received “good advice” from senior filmmakers and had “great assistance” from a friend, Jeeah Huh, with the textures of the film.  This advice and assistance helped to “motivate” him to stick with the film and finish an impressive final product.  In fact, he didn’t even expect the film to garner any big audiences as the film was made in part for his Master’s Program in computer arts.

 

 

It did take more time to make without assistance, however.  Liu reported that he worked on the film for “nine to ten months.”  He elaborated on the film’s concept saying, “After getting a BFA in traditional animation from the School of Visual Arts in ’08, it was a rough time in the economy to find a job in animation.”  Liu’s storyline of a ninja struggling to find work in his chosen field is metaphor for Liu’s own experience.  In his own words of advice to aspiring filmmakers, “Don’t give up.  If you’re really passionate, keep going for it;” words Liu certainly emulates.

Another film is not only animated but it features the voiceover work of two major celebrities, Christopher Lloyd and Kathy Bates.  This is Jonah Ansell’s short, Cadaver, featured in Showcase 4, about a cadaver man, voiced by Lloyd, who comes back to life after a medical student, voiced by acting newcomer and fashion blogger, Tavi Gevinson, cuts him open.  Ansell’s younger sister, a med student at Northwestern University, served as the inspiration for the film, and he explains how his idea for Cadaver was prompted by a call from his sister:

“Two years ago, on the day before my little sister cut open her first cadaver, I received a frantic email. They were making the med students do some sort of creative assignment, like, ‘tell us what you think this cadaver’s life must’ve been like, write a haiku, or draw a picture,’ I think it was intended to get the kids to realize that the body that they were going to spend the next semester dissecting was once a living, breathing human and that they needed to treat it with respect. So, I wrote this little poem, a love story in fact, about a cadaver who wakes up and begs the med student to help him say a last goodbye to his wife — who he didn’t get to say farewell to, before he died. I didn’t think anything of it. I went on with my day. In fact, I think a whole year went by. But something in the story kept drawing me back to it.”  (See Ansell and his sister inset).

 

 

Cadaver also bears a comic book like animation style and remarkably the film was “entirely hand-drawn with Sharpie markers,” according to Ansell.  The hand-drawings were then animated “using Adobe’s After Effects.”  Ansell acknowledges Carina Simmons for Cadaver’s character design, and Eric Vennemeyer as the art direction lead and illustrator for “all of the non-character assets in the film.”  Of Simmons, Ansell says, “She has a lush, dark and gritty sensibility.  She was integral in creating the film’s emotional tone.  She visually ignited the voices to life.”  Ansell credits Vennemeyer for helping to “visually layer the work to give it an ancient, timeless nature.”

 

 

Finally, I spoke with Joaquin Baldwin, the creator of the short, The Windmill Farmer, shown in Showcase 13.  Baldwin brings an animation style he amusingly calls, “whimsical overly-textured silhouette,” then he quips, “That’s it, I think…” In truth, Baldwin’s animation style is in a class of its own; as a viewer it feels like a storybook come to life on screen, with textured drawing-like animation.  The film is about a windmill farmer, and its fictional absurdity mirrors the storybook feel of the film.  In the film, the farmer struggles to tend to his windmill farm after harsh weather patterns destroy his “crop.”  Thus, the film obviously lends itself to a “pro-renewable energy message” in Baldwin’s own words.

All the same, Baldwin especially hopes the audience will gain “the simple satisfaction of experiencing the story of the farmer, and to reflect on the cyclical nature of nature. It’s entertainment, plus hope, plus eye candy, plus inspiration for other filmmakers, but I don’t think that watching a film like this will change your mind about what you should be doing to now screw up the planet.”

 

 

Baldwin also elaborated on his image of the film’s storyline: “I wanted to convey the cycles of nature, of life and death, of farming, or water, or the spinning of the windmills, and how these cycles continue and even if we are powerless to stop them, we know that in the end things will return to a balance once more.”

In terms of the animation style used in the film, Baldwin solely used a Mac laptop, which allowed him to access a plethora of animation programs.

“The animation was done in Toon Boom, exported as vector SWFs files, and brought into After Effects, where I added the textures and colors. The backgrounds I painted in Photoshop (in reality I just painted textures, and used them to color vector shapes inside After Effects). I also used Maya to animate the destruction of the windmills, using a basic simulation and rendering as a flat vector SWF.”

Baldwin, also admits the animation itself to be a point of difficulty,

“One main challenge was to keep the film visually interesting, while working with silhouettes. I couldn’t have strange camera moves or change my compositions too much, so I went with a super stylized texturing and subtle glowing effects to make the images more interesting to look at in every frame. It was tricky, it was hard to settle between a point to pure simplicity and a jumble of non-sensical texturing, it took me a long time to figure out what the final look would be like. It was also quite complicated to find ways to show emotions in silhouettes, it taught me a lot about clear posing and depending on body posture for emotion.”

Baldwin certainly seems to have trounced those complications head on with his thoughtful, heartfelt and lively film.

Each of these four films brings its own variations in style and animation, and affords different connotations and implications.  The inspirations for these films commonly stem from a seemingly trivial impetus that then, upon further reflection, engenders greater meaning.  Films in animation, even short films, take an ample amount of time and are certainly more challenging than meets the eye, in my mind.  My hat goes off to these incredibly talented, resilient and resolute filmmakers.

 

By:  Hadley Fielding

 

Showcase 7: In Pursuit of Connection

These nine films share the motif of developing or fostering connection.  Some characters seek connection with others and some wish to solidify an inner connection or one with the world itself.  In many of these films, the development of connection is in opposition to the act of severing connection.

 

 

In Eli Shapiro’s farce, To Snowy Nowhere, Tad is determined to retrieve his runaway sister, Laurie, from a remote cabin in upstate New York.  He hires a former husky construction worker to assist him in a dubious kidnapping ruse that doesn’t exactly go according to plan.  Shapiro depicts the love-hate nature of sibling relationships in a story filled with wit, awkward interfaces and some hilarious twists.

 

McKenzie, is a documentary short by Paul Houston that follows veteran silkscreen artist Jeff McKenzie, who has found success with his small screen printing business, McKenzie & Company.  He discusses his resistance to automated technology, and his amazement at how little the trade has changed since his start in 1972.  In a world of cheap imitation where nearly everything seems to be mechanized and artificial, it is a wonder to learn about an art form that has yet to become obsolete.

 

Teardrop, a film by Damian John Harper delineates the lifestyle of inner-city gangs, shot from the perspective of a young uninitiated gang member named Dan.  After getting beat up by a member of a rival gang, Dan’s crew prods him to murder his assailant in order to gain “official” membership into the gang.  He is left in a plight of moral consequence as he determines what he wants.  Harper depicts gang violence in all its brutality in this gripping short film.

 

 

Florette, a sprightly, animated short by Gus Filgate and Paul Miller, follows a kitchen’s medley of tangoing vegetables.  However, the edibles are not without company and must escape the sharp blades of the kitchen knives to avoid a minced fate.  This inventive and entertaining short features brilliant stop-go animation and a composed background score.

 

Everything is Incredible is a documentary short, collaborated by three American filmmakers, Tyler Bastian, Trevor Hill and Tim Skousen.  The filmmakers travelled to Siguatepeque, Honduras to illuminate the life of a local disabled man named Agustin who has been building a helicopter in his home for the past 53 years.  Afflicted with polio as a boy, Agustin is now confined to a wheelchair.  He has faced physical handicap, loneliness and poverty, and despite continuous ridicule, he has not given up on his fanatical dream.

 

 

In Jess Brickman’s short, The Five Stages of Grief, we meet Daniel a 20-something who has just learned of his father’s death.  At the outset, he doesn’t know what to make of it, however, he is quickly met with a succession of conflicting emotions.  With a quirky cast of characters, Brickman depicts Daniel’s dealings with the five stages of grief in this burlesque dramedy.

 

 

Adam Brody gives an engaging performance in Double or Nothing, a short film directed by Nathaniel Krause and written by Neil LaBute.  In the midst of a heated quarrel with his girlfriend, Clark, played by Brody, is interrupted by a burly homeless man soliciting for money.  Clark gets an idea to make a “double or nothing” wager with the disheveled vagrant, which infuriates his girlfriend.

 

In Cobra, a dramatic short directed by Rob Pritts, a father, Kevin, is left in a state of sorrow after his grown-son, Curtis, passes away unexpectedly.  Filled with remorse by their lack of a relationship, he decides to go to the exotic club where his son was a dancer following the funeral.  Able to learn about Curtis posthumously, Kevin is finally free to accept his son.

 

 

Harry Grows Up is a charming film directed by Mark Nickelsburg that follows an adorable 18-month old boy named Harry maneuvering his way around New York City.  In the satirical short, Harry faces heartbreak after the object of his affection, his babysitter, leaves for college.  Luckily a trip to the park leaves him with a new love interest (someone his own age).  Screen actor, Josh Hamilton voices Harry’s absurdly ironic “inner-thoughts.”

 

By:  Hadley Fielding