So, Outsideleft was back at SXSW for the second year but this time the festival had returned to the real world leaving us, still viewing virtually 2021 style, geo-locked out of 90% of the movies, nose pressed to kiosk glass, squinting into one blank screen after another. Next year we’ll buy a ticket to Texas. Definitely. All that said we caught what we could - a few features (reports to follow) and a stack of short films.
Though interest in short films comes predominantly from other short film makers or aspiring film creatives who see the short as a stepping stone into “proper” movie-making, the best shorts offer something for the casual viewer. Like being told a story by a stranger that sticks with you. Like hearing a joke without already knowing the punchline. Like waking from a nightmare, exhilarated and relieved. An element of surprise. A snatch of something that resonates beyond its own limitations. Sure, you can admire individual elements, the craft of the cinematographer, the million dollar looking FX created on a $300 laptop, the thrift store costumier that knocks it out of the park but good shorts are collaborative efforts. Seamless. Like a great short story. Or even a poem. Short films are their own unique thing. You don’t need to try and make a mini feature.
A case in point is Awayy () directed by Aqsa Altaf which focuses on Ivy (Annelise Cepero) and Taz (Denny Love) a small town waitress and a laundromat attendant on the night before they are to head to New York to follow their dream of making it in the theatre. Ivy bails at the last moment just as mysterious solar flares light up the sky and the world suddenly, dramatically changes. It’s beautifully understated and manages to deftly shift gear into strangeness in the final act.
Another kind of weird sci-fi is Will Seefried’s Homesick () in which an unhappy man attends a radical new age style retreat where he gets to be literally reborn. Eduardo (Hiram Delgado) strips in a shabby motel room and climbs into a plastic sack, the soundtrack is swamped by the sounds of the womb. Eduardo crawls through a tube towards a pulsing light and finds himself in another room, his new mother and father welcoming him. The parents pamper their child, an adult man in pyjamas, treating him to the blissful childhood he perhaps never had (Eduardo’s back story remains pleasingly blank) but it’s a limited offer and as the sessions end the artificiality of the arrangement for both subject and surrogate parents starts to show. There’s a disturbing edge to the film thanks in part to Delgado’s stone faced performance contrasting with the exuberantly faked emotions from the ersatz parents. It is also beautifully shot.
The short film lends itself well to the two hander. A couple of lead actors, a tight script, a simple location. And relationship troubles are always a go to in terms of subject matter. Radical Honesty () directed by Bianca Poletti captures the tail end of a date between Rachel (Allison Goldfarb) and Jack (John Hein) just as they’re discussing whether they should spend the night together. Jack reveals he is in an open relationship and needs to check in with his partner to tell her his plans. Rachel initially says she’s okay with this but obviously isn’t and the doublespeak and triple meanings of their subsequent dialogue is the real joy here. Goldfarb, who also provided the script, is particularly good as she becomes increasingly exasperated by her faltering and fickle paramour. And though the ending is predictable it is also perfectly satisfying.
Another restaurant another dining couple. We Should Get Dinner! () directed by Lexi Tannenholtz and Eliza Jiménez Cossio finds Abby (Eliza Jiménez Cossio) at a catch-up dinner with her stepbrother Sean (Anthony Oberbeck) who she hasn’t spoken to since their parents’ acrimonious divorce. Scripted by Cossio, this is an often very funny comedy investigating abandonment and familial responsibility. There are plenty of wisecracks before the sparring verbals descend into slapstick and a well modulated coda in the emergency room.
Aspirational Slut (Wild Bitch ) written and directed by Caroline Lindy, is a comedy about heartbroken Rosemary (Ellyn Jameson) getting over her relationship trauma by becoming a liberated slut under the tutelage of a pizza delivery guy. Cue montage of Rosemary’s first forays into random sex with a variety of partners. Eventually the nerdish Ned (Jake Nordwind) comes knocking at the door and Rosemary has to reconsider her sluttishness. Jameson gives her all in this but the whole thing comes across like a character subplot to a somewhat dated sitcom. Another sitcom style short comes from one time pop star Kate Nash, co-directing, co-writing and co-starring with Rebekka Johnson, in (). Nash plays Melanie, a glamorous and ambitious local TV news reporter (shades of Nicole Kidman in To Die For) sent out to cover a story about a coyote encroaching on a woman’s property. Now the woman, the dowdy, downtrodden Barb, sees the coyote as her new partner and wants to introduce him to Melanie. Out in the wilderness the unlikely couple bond and turn the tables on the men they see as having held them back. Part feminist revenge tale, part eco-warning horror Wild Bitch plays pretty broad. Right from the over the top fright wig that Nash wears there’s nothing subtle going on. And the Nash-penned closing song goes full punk screamer just in case the preceding 11 minutes hadn’t been in your face enough.
Far West () Benefiting from cinematic splendour of the Texan desert, Far West is a cautionary tale of two men on the hunt for a briefcase of cash stashed in the wilderness. Directed by Grace and Emily Potter the film stars two deaf actors Russell Harvard and Julian Moiwai and they converse via ASL and lip-reading. When they find the cash they realise it is too late to trek back and they are ill prepared to stay overnight. Can they trust each other to wait until morning. Unfortunately what could have been an interesting investigation into language and what is said and what is meant is rather let down by a plot that’s dependent on the most obvious and least interesting aspect of the men’s disability i.e. that, at a distance, they can’t hear each other or hear what’s happening.
Another film championing the representation of disability on-screen (and off) and my personal favourite of all of the shorts I watched is Act of God () directed by and starring Spencer Cook. This is the story of Stuart, a cantankerous disabled man who has pissed off one too many support workers and finds himself stuck with an inexperienced helper he’s recruited himself off the internet. Cook, a disabled man, co-wrote the script with his actual carer Parker Smith and it is a beautifully observed look into independence and dependence, compromise and self-reliance. When Stuart sees a $100 bill on the pavement as he travels home from work in his motorised wheelchair he is unable to reach down to pick it up. The wind catches it and blows it down the street. The chase is on. This is a very funny film and Cook is superb as the misanthropic Stuart as is Tinus Seaux as Paul his stoner carer. It’s wonderfully shot by Taylor Camarot including some dynamic shots of Stuart cruising the streets in his chair.
Main Image: Spencer Cook as Stuart in Act of God
Kate Nash and Rebekka Johnson in Wild Bitch.
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