Unfortunately, I am not without criticisms of some elements of my hometown, but last week I wore a scarf over my face to filter a bit of the nasty air and ducked frustration over the gay marriage roller coaster by generally avoiding the local news and, instead, took advantage of one definite benefit of living in Salt Lake: the Sundance Film Festival. Eight tickets in six days (I wimped out and didn't make it to a ninth showing) is an exhilarating and exhausting week. The Sundance Institute continues, after all these years, to take care of locals by giving us the opportunity to purchase tickets at (what I believe is) a lower price, and some advantage of purchase times. Most of our top picks were sold out by the time my random purchase time arrived, but I didn't have any problem with still finding nine programs I was excited about attending. Two of those programs were collections of short films and one was the animation shorts, so of my eight outings, six of them were full length films and then a wide variety of shorts. I only distinctly despised two of the films, both shorts, and otherwise either found redeeming bits or simply enjoyed everything else.
The Shorts (live):
Afronauts:(13 minute short) Visual pleasure in both the black and white film and the two gorgeous female protagonists. The synopsis from the film's site: "Inspired by true events, Afronauts tells an alternative history of the 1960s Space Race. It’s the night of July 16th 1969 and, as America prepares to send Apollo 11 to the moon, a group of exiles in the Zambian desert are rushing to launch their rocket first." Felt mythical, laced with magical realism.
Here I Am... There You Are... : (12 minute short) After watching this film, I wondered if anyone else in the theater could manage to legitimately argue that the female character, despite her occasional laughter, was truly ever enjoying herself or turned on. I hated this film with a seething rage. I'm perfectly accepting of sex in my films, and I've attended a number of other shorts and films over the years that made the audience uncomfortable in parts, and I've been okay with all of that. This film was degrading, violent soft-core porn and I imagined someone in the Sundance offices saying, "Sure, we've received thousands of short films, some of which are excellent, but in narrowing down our very limited selections, let's just make sure we have some shitty film to pander to the 50 Shades of Gray fans." And I'm not actually saying 50 Shades isn't any good - I haven't read it myself, so I can't say much about it either way - but I have seen this film and I would definitely categorize it as shitty.
Me + Her: (13 minute short) When this came on screen, I heard several people in the audience whisper, "Animated?" and it did, indeed, appear to be animated, in the first scenes but was grouped with the live short films because it appears to actually be cardboard marionettes shot live. I always enjoy films like this that manage to easily blend two seemingly disparate emotions; here, grief and humor. A cardboard man's lover dies, but that they're made of cardboard isn't just the medium, it's the reality, as she's sent out in the recycling bin with the other cardboard the next day. What follows is his memories and grieving process.
Misterio: (short) A bit depressing but also fun Spanish film about a stolid woman working in a sewing factory and feeding the local feral cats. One of her co-workers claims that her son was visited by The Virgin and that if you listen at the back of his neck, she'll talk to you. The woman listens, and it changes her life. You can watch the full film at the link.
Kekasih: (9 minute short) An odd Malaysian film about a man whose wife dies. He doesn't waste any time mourning her but quickly collects her blood, skin, and saliva, and rushes back to his lab to perform some unexplained experiments. Probably a film about mourning? But just felt strange and uncomfortable and lacking some point.
Person to Person: (18 minute short): Pleasingly odd film about a man who hosts a party and wakes up to find a woman passed out on his living room floor. After she bothers to wake up after several hours, she refuses to leave his apartment. Strange, disturbing, somewhat funny. I enjoyed it, though found some issue with the continuity.
Dig: (10 minute short) Although parts of this film were enjoyable, ultimately it just annoyed me. It felt like it was trying to illuminate some great metaphor but fell flat. It's sweet that the girl wants to support her father, but when he may just be having some sort of breakdown, perhaps it's just enabling? You can watch the film at the link.
Exchange & Mart: (15 minute short) Although somewhat confusing, this was definitely one of my favourite shorts. Set in a 1980's Scottish boarding school. I adored the protagonists, and want to know the story behind "based on actual events."
Burger: (11 minute short) Engaging can't-look-away short set in a Cardiff burger joint. One of those films where I felt tense throughout watching it, worried about what was going to happen.
Black Mulberry (28 minute short): A bildungsroman set in a Georgian mining town about a couple of teenagers approaching their depressing futures (his, anyway). Greatly distracted by the sense that while filming the girl walking they stopped several times to say, "No, make your walk even more ridiculously exaggerated!"
Master Muscles (14 minute short): This was the other short that, had it not been book-ended by other shorts, I would have most certainly walked out. This is really saying something - I will and have sat through bad films, to my detriment, hoping for some light at the end of the tunnel. To say I would've walked out on this one is really saying something. Why in the hell would anyone want to watch a meandering, pointless fourteen minutes of a woman bodybuilder emotionally abusing her boyfriend on a road trip? The whole film was clearly made so as to showcase her body, and perhaps even the house at the end of the film, because I never even understood why they drove to that house to begin with. Although I didn't love Black Mulberry, this film seemed twice as long. Miserable!
The Big House: (5 minute short) A short-short Yemen film about yearning for something instead of looking around to see you have something even better.
Catherine: (13 minute short) Oh, so very funny film about a week in the life of Catherine. One of those strange films where everyone laughs but if you try and discuss why you laughed, it seems slightly ineffable. Sort of old-school Saturday-Night-Live-ish.
The Cut: (15 minute short) Sweet, sweet, sweet (in a non-tooth-rotting sort of way). Absolutely one of my favourites. A Canadian film about a few minutes in the life of a girl and her father. The actress was excellent. It won the Festival's Short Film Jury Award: International Fiction and most certainly deserved to do so.
Rat Pack Rat: (19 minute short) This film is a great example of the type of film that was quite uncomfortable, and yet I was willing to see it through. About a Sammy Davis, Jr. impersonator hired by a woman to entertain her very ill adult son on his birthday. Although I appreciated it for what it was, it was just a bit too disturbing (and disgusting) for me to like. I was that woman in the midst of the audience moaning, "ewwwww!!" at several bits. It won the festival award for the Short Film Special Jury Prize: Unique Vision. And you can certainly say that about it: it had a unique vision.