Dances With Films (DWF) wants you to see their shorts. Dances With Films is a Hollywood-based film festival running Jun 1-11, now in its twentieth year, dedicated to featuring the works of independent filmmakers. Many of these filmmakers got their start producing short films. Most short films never make any money, but they are a great way for directors, writers, actors, and crew to gain experience and show off their talents. Short films are shown nearly every day at DWF.
What Kind of Shorts?
Is a short film just like a narrative or documentary feature, only shorter? Sometimes. But, if we compare a narrative feature to its inspiration – the novel – to what can we compare short films? The short story, of course, but, some short films are character studies, others poems, still others scary tales told around a campfire, or that ticket you saved from your first rock concert.
DWF will present over fifty short films this year. The first group I saw, on June 3, provides a good example of the variety of experience they offer. If there was one overarching theme in this set of films, it was probably anti-bullying. Could it be creative types were bullied a lot as kids?
Two Campfire Tales
That is exactly what happens in A Boy in The Dark. Jake, played by TonyBoy Marin, is a talented artist whose sketchbook is filled with strange creatures in exotic locales who come to life when the lights go out. His talent is also a curse, because a night terror appears in his bedroom every night to torment him, and when he goes to school in the day, a bully tries to destroy his work. Jake’s journey, as he learns to deal with both external and internal daemons, is a gripping story. It was written and directed by Jason Ragosta, who, during the question and answer session, admitted that this tale may have been a bit autobiographical.
Warm Springs is another reminiscence about childhood, this one taking place in writer/director Sean Wang’s childhood home of Warm Springs, California. It’s summer time and six-year-old Ryan wants to be one of the boys with his older brother Van and his two buddies. They look down on him and barely tolerate his presence. The ending is violent and depressing for no particular dramatic reason. This was an experiment that didn’t work.
In Orangedreams, writer/director Jessica Liu, in another autobiographical confession, tells us the story of a sixth-grade girl from the early 2000s who dreams of becoming a pop superstar. It took me a few seconds to comprehend that I was seeing someone using AOL Messenger on screen. Other pop culture call backs included flip phones, CDs and period music such as All Star by Smash Mouth.
When she goes to meet her online crush at the mall, she discovers that, as the line in the song says, “Only shooting stars break the mold.” Orangedreams is fun and charming and inspires us not to let go of dreams.
Tail is a look back at 1980s rom-coms, particularly drawing inspiration from Splash. The film is written by David Gannon, Troy Larkin, Carl J. Sorheim, and Nathan Strauss, and directed by Sorheim.
It seems to begin like Splash with a stranded mermaid and a young man running to her rescue, but we soon discover that they are actually children’s birthday party entertainers. Skye, played by Lisa Fineberg, is Chaise the Mermaid. Her friend-zone co-worker Jay, played by Nathan Strauss, is Punch the Parrot. They are both bullied by their boss, Mark the Pirate, a Jack Sparrow look-alike, played by J.R. Reyne. The film relies on slapstick and mean humor. The actors did fine, but this film did not make me nostalgic or laugh.
Two Character Studies
Still Here, written by Teresa Decher and directed by Kholi Hicks, suggest that sometimes breaking up is hard to do. (Hmm, good title for a song.) Descher also stars as the young woman who has decided to break up with her boyfriend. Descher does an outstanding job of creating a quirky young lady you’ll remember. As she packs her boyfriend’s belongings in a paper bag to return to him, her roommate, played hilariously by Michelle Ortiz, pokes fun at her efforts. She knew something.
A week later, the woman and her boyfriend, played by Kevin Joy, are still trying to break up. Relationships are complicated. Who knew?
One of my two favorites, The Faceless Man, directed by Jeremy Foley and written by Foley and Sara O’Reilly, is like the Twilight Zone, with its tongue firmly planted in its cheek. A man, played by William O’Leary, is so disillusioned with life, he stays in bed with his head covered as his wife gets ready for work. She admonishes him not to stay in bed all day, and asks him to pick up a prescription for her.
After his wife leaves he pulls down the blankets and we discover that the front of his face has turned into a mirror. When he discovers it, he does venture out into the world, and the reflections people see in his face, change the world for them and for him. This is a great modern-day fable and a clever and creative piece of filmmaking.
The best of this group of films, and if I had to bet, it probably will be an award winner, is All The Marbles. The film begins with a classic leather-bound storybook opening and you are drawn into a fantasy world where marbles are the most valuable thing in the world. (Sounds like parts of my childhood.) And why is this a poem? The narration and all the dialog are all in verse.
The story involves a young boy, Jamison, played by Cole Sand (Austin & Ally, Trollhunters), who has won the greatest marble of them all. A villainous bully named Wolf, played by Carl Petersen, who also helped write the story, steals the marble and Jamison must face him in a match for all the marbles.
Wolf’s bullying alienates one of his minions, Foxy, played by Helen Sadler, and she comes over to Jamison’s side.
Director/co-writer Michael Swingler gets colorful and memorable performances from what may be the largest cast ever for a 16-minute film. The costumes and make-up are worthy of a full-scale Hollywood blockbuster. Petersen makes a great villain, drawing on his Shakespearean and Upright Citizens Brigade background. Sadler reminded me of Helena Bonham Carter’s Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.