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Virtual SXSW: Short Film Review – ‘Run On’ Brings the Angst in Just 12 Minutes

When people think about movies, they tend to think about features. Those are the 80- to 120-minute or more stories or documentaries that we often come to associate with stages or turning points in our lives. But short films, like Run On, many less than 20 minutes long, can be just as moving or memorable. They are just harder to find. (I accidentally ran across the short film The Conversation and because of it have attended the event where I saw Run On for eight years running.)

Run On Poster

This year, at the SXSW that didn’t happen, many short films were scheduled to grace Austin screens. The most impressive one I have been able to see so far in our new (temporarily) virtual world is Run On.

In the Bus Station

Bus stations can be grim. I never waited around in one worse than the one created by writer/director Daniel Newell Kaufman in his short film Run On. In it we meet a young boy, played by Luke Visagie, and his mother, played by performance artist Erin Markey. They are waiting for a bus to carry them away from Luke’s father, with all their possessions in a couple of garbage bags.

That sounds like it could have been the plot of any number of movies or countless TV episodes. What occurs in the 12 minutes of this film is, however, one of the most intense cinematic experiences I have ever lived through. At the end, I found myself thinking, “What just happened?”, not because it wasn’t well done, but because my senses were overwhelmed. As I recovered, the story became clear.

Luke Visagie
Luke Visagie plays a boy trying to make sense out of a nightmare world

Kaufman achieved this stunning bit of moviemaking through exceptional technique and a personal connection with the emotional and family issues at the center of the story.

The film is shot with Luke at the center or from his perspective in nearly one continuous hand-held shot, and it moves fast. He does run. The dark colors, the threatening faces, the frightening discoveries that Luke makes pull you into a world you don’t want to be in. Director of Photography Adam Newport-Berna (The Last Black Man in San Francisco) deserves special recognition for a truly masterful piece of work.

In the Pain

So much emotional pain, fear and dread are packed into this short film, it should be required watching for anyone who wants to direct. Part of Kaufman’s accomplishment he credits to his own family experience.

Daniel Newell Kaufman
Writer/Director Daniel Newell Kaufman on set

In notes provided by his publicist, he explained: “Coming from a family peppered with a history of alcoholism and mental illness, these have always been fundamental questions for me. Like Luke, the kid at the center of the film, my time with my mother mixed love and chaos in equal parts and brought me to the humble realization that in the moment we were both equally powerless. There’s a bond in that but also an independence. The film is about the painful catharsis of breaking free – of stepping onto your own path to break out of a karmic loop – hence the film’s visual structure as a broken circle.”

Kaufman continued, “This came into full relief last year when my step-father died, and I found myself living under the same roof as my mother for the first time in many years. I saw her wrestling with a familiar question: Can we start over? Are we trapped by the story written in the very lines on our palms? Or can we shift this inherited narrative?” That is the crisis Luke deals with in the film.

Kaufman has a background in documentaries and music videos, having worked with artists such as The Decemberists, Jay Z, and Alicia Keys. He is currently working on his first feature film.

About Leo Sopicki

Writer, photographer, graphic artist and technologist. I focus my creative efforts on celebrating the American virtues of self-reliance, individual initiative, volunteerism, tolerance and a healthy suspicion of power and authority.

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