I saw a lot of shorts at the Austin Revolution Film Festival (ARFF), September 19-23. Short films, of course.
Short films are a staple of film festivals. They come from several sources. There are contests, like the Producers Guild Weekend Shorts Contest or the 48 Hour Film Festival, which give filmmakers a chance at exposure and recognition. Other times, they are a way of showing off or expressing an idea. Filmmakers are artists, after all. In recent years, web series have also joined the festival circuit.
I couldn’t see all the shorts at ARFF, although I wish I could have. Here are the ones that really impressed me.
There were not many politically oriented films at ARFF, which is probably a good thing, but three that I did see, were quite well done.
Most television series, especially comedies, are created in something called a “writers room.” Writers sit around a table, under the guidance of show runner, bounce ideas off one another and otherwise test jokes and plots while a young writer is designated to take notes. In Politically Correct a writers’ room grinds to a halt as each person around the table tries to be more acceptable than all the others. My take away was that you can’t be politically correct and creative, and especially not funny, at the same time.
Ya Albi, which translates to My Heart, is about a Syrian refugee who signs up for an ESL class, while waiting for her husband to join her. A crisis occurs when she finds out that her husband’s immigration visa was rejected because his name was similar to one on a watch list. The story revolves around the relationship between the immigrant and the family of her ESL teacher. The film gets political in the wrong way, by taking a swipe at people who think immigration should be more restricted. This added nothing to the story and was a distraction. Despite this, I agree that the actress playing the immigrant – Diana Rose – deservedly won the Allison Wood Texas Actress award.
The final political short, which won the Best In Show – Short Award was Alternative Math. A math teacher is correcting the arithmetic paper of an elementary school student. She tries to explain that “2 + 2 = 4”. He rudely defies her, claiming that “2 + 2 = 22”. A spiraling controversy ensues, invoking insensitivity, persecution of students, and other politically correct manifestations of victimology. The ending offers a cleaver twist which has to be seen to be appreciated.
Who Is Crazy?
Horror films are always popular at film festivals.
Evil Rising was a short which begins with a young child witnessing a horrible murder. We meet her again when she is in college, but the memory – and maybe something more – still haunts her. It haunts her in her sleep and when she wakes, if she really is awake. It won’t leave her alone. I thought Evil Rising was a bit light on story, but, strong on effects and mood, and it was scary.
Jake, the protagonist of The Tunnel, is afraid of something. He lives, what on the surface appears to be a well-adjusted life on an electric train diorama. His world is entirely plastic. He only fears the tunnel out of which the electric trains come roaring. Jake is living a lie. As we watch him, with tongue-in-cheek dialog throughout, the filmmaker suggests that maybe our world is equally false. Maybe truth can only be discerned if we enter our own tunnel. Dylan Tuccillo won Best Short Director for The Tunnel.
In I Love You So Much It’s Killing Them we meet Vivian, a lonely accountant at an insurance company who loves only math. She’s also a serial killer. This black comedy goes rom-com when a new employee, handsome Alex, gives Vivian a new lease on life and a new commitment to her hobby. She’s the funniest serial killer I’ve ever seen. Joel McCarthy won best World Director for this short.
After all that politics and madness, it’s good to LOL once in a while. ARFF had lots of comedy shorts.
Becca C. Johnson is an aspiring writer, but she is a little short on cash. Lucky for her that her father is a rich doctor. In Becca on Call we see her discover that just asking your dad for cash does not always work. He agrees to help her, but only if she works for him as a nurse assistant. Maybe having a day job will make her a better writer. To find out if this web series morphs into a TV sit-com, follow them on Facebook.
A special category at ARFF is the micro comedy – really short shorts. I liked Battleground. It’s a horrible thing to show up for a 5th wedding anniversary and know your parents still hate your spouse. Even if he is a puppet. A real puppet, who looks kind of like a Muppet. Prejudice is bad. And then there was the commercial for advanced formula Not Tonight Dear! You’ve heard of Viagra. Many side effects. The only side effect of totally natural Not Tonight Dear! Is more time to hang with your “bros.”
My favorite comedy short was Shotgun. This is a broad comedy in which three hot young women get into a car and begin a rebellious, burn rubber, wild ride. What do I mean by broad comedy? For the first part of the film the women are speaking French and we read the dialog about why the front, right hand seat is called “shotgun” in subtitles. Then one of them asks, “Why are we speaking French?” Another answers, “Because the director told us to.” Rebellious ladies they are, so they switch to English. For you cinephiles, this is a send up of French New Wave cinema, but you don’t have to be able to quote Jean-Luc Godard to love this film.
For more information on the films at ARFF and to find out about next year’s program, check their website.