Posted by ws1 on:
I went to the Santa Barbara Shorts screening at Victoria Hall Wednesday night for a very diverse and enjoyable set of films (nine in all). The sb shorts are an interesting and often neglected little vein of SBIFF, which are predominantly attended by those either involved directly in the making of one of the films, or those related to someone who was. From what I gather - due to the relative lack of obstacles for 'getting a piece into SBIFF if you're a Santa Barbarian' - there is a considerable lack of interest on the part of the greater public - probably because it is widely assumed that the quality of local entries is sub-par compared to the rest of the festivals screenings. To some degree, I understand this logic. On the other hand, there is a rushed freshness to most of these pieces, which makes for some truly unique and enjoyable film experiences.
There were probably two or three obvious standouts, some doozies, and others that fell somewhere inbetween. Here are some thoughts on them in order of appearance.
Based loosely on a Dave Eggers short story, Anatomy of Numbers (dir Erin Cantelo) was a sweet, intimate portrayal of two lovers in bed flirting, fondling - and eventually making love. Filmed in warm tones, it showcased subtle human gestures, vulnerable moments, and some of the more complex cultural norms that effect our most personal moments (in this case revolving around how many sexual partners each person had had in the past). Though there were brief moments where I was reminded that the people on screen were acting, Cantelo's sophisticated eye (exquisite lighting and depth of field camerawork), humor, sound choices and a acute sense of human charm, vulnerability, and cultural baggage made it obvious that we'll be seeing more of her wonderful work in the future. ****1/2 (4.5 stars)
A Room for Sarah (dir Ginger Swanson) was a faux 1920's era silent film, based on a true story, about a woman confined by her brother (and his nasty wife) to an upstairs room in their late father's house. The film did not hold together (though there was a narrative) for me. The filming was not convincing (even for a Chaplinesque musical silent flim) or particularly engaging. **1/2 (2.5 stars)
Business (dir John McKinney) stood out from the beginning with it's off-kilter edgy humor, augmented pacing and bizarre but compelling characters Caleb and Walker. The 19 minute film chronicles a continuous set of situational non-sequiturs that follow Caleb's challenges after inheriting a very non-glamourous office building that he is determined to use to 'make lots of money'.. somehow. Though there was an almost undetectable narrative, McKinney maintained a comical and spellbinding comedy that had everyone either on the edge of their seats, or in danger of falling on the floor from laughter. Though not intentional (I asked John after the film) I thought it also had subtle shades of Zach, Tim and Eric, which is never a bad thing. Easily, one of my 2 favorite shorts this year. ****1/2 (4.5 stars)
The Early Worm (dir Ray Pivato) was a super lo-fi 'day in the life' of a poor business man who gets up early to do his thing, only to be foiled by a series horrible misfortunes. Though it had a lot of cheap laughs, and great cursing repetition, it dragged on a few minutes too long. *** (3 stars)
En Route (dir Karl Mefford) featured race-cars, super sharp bond-like cinematography, and even a little twist, but smacked a little too much of too much budget (and equipment) and too little planning or attention to narrative. Seemed more like an afternoon 'boy's playing with an expensive camera and expensive cars' than something you'd want to go see outside of your friends living-room. ** (two stars).
The Fisherman (dir Jason Hallows) had a fresh take on the old Genie in a Bottle story. A fisherman, while having a smoke catches a typical genie lantern in his fishing net, at which point things get a little weird. Shot and produced in less than a week, this short was impressive both because of it's built in sense of humor and curiosity, and for a very unique set of visual effects. I thought It could have been developed more though. I would love to see what Hallows could come up with in twice or three times the time. ***1/2 (3.5 stars).
Rashi Bahri's film Sarah (yeah, I know, second one with that name in one night) was a difficult to watch, but courageous piece of fiction that depicted a young woman tortured by nightmares of drowning, who decides to confront her fear. Though the director plays some old-school (and possibly played-out) cinematic tricks, there are many stylistic and emotional subtleties that invite a second viewing. it was also consistently and convincingly suspenseful. The film does a good job of showcasing and elaborating on human emotions that are too often oversimplified. ***1/2 (3.5 stars)
Showing Disaster: Tea Fire Reflections (dir Ethan Turpin), which was only 4 minutes long, stood out because of its self-reflexive dissection of ethical questions surrounding the documenting of disaster. Turpin delicately (but simply and clearly) unpacked complex ideas like cultural voyeurism, empathy, and subsistence in a non-conclusive (and refreshingly honest) style. Showing Disaster invited far more comments and questions than the other shorts, which I believe is usually an indication of a very strong work of art. ****1/2 (4.5 stars)
We Have Lost our Wings but Still We Dream of Flying (dir Elia Vargas) was (for me) the low point of the shorts screening. Vargas chose a split screen presentation for this film, depicting both a romantic (and voyeuristic) scene of a beautiful girl rolling around in a field in the wind on one side, and a dismal, green-toned, dark indoor scene with a male figure sitting alone beside a lamp on the other. I thought that the imagery was actually strong, as was the soundtrack - which consisted of compelling swelling squelchy electric ambient noise. But the whole thing was ruined by what sounded like a morbid high-school goth-kids all-too-long monologue about how 'the world' is 'puke', decaying and devoid of goodness. It's not the sentiment that was off-putting, but the delivery, which seemed to lack any awareness of how played-out and sophomoric it might actually be. Though earnest and occasionally interesting, 'Flying' left me pretty flat. *1/2 (1.5 stars)