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Top of the Sundance Online Shorts

25 Jan

All of the nine shorts Yahoo and the Sundance Film Festival have put on the web are pretty good. It’s an impressive crop, and I’d say more consistent than a lot of the stuff festivals have put online in the last year. Yet in any batch of films a few rise to the top. I’ve rounded up the other seven, and the oddly consistent problem they have. Here are my two favorites and some gushing about why I think they’re absolutely worth your time.

Long Distance Information, by Douglas Hart

I suppose it doesn’t reflect too well on my attention span that one of my picks is the shortest film on the list, but oh well. While it may not be excellent because it cuts out before the eight minute mark, that comparatively small running time makes the brief screenplay even more noticeably tight. There’s not a single wasted second.

Writer/director Douglas Hart’s film is one of subtle relationship shifts. That applies not only to the emotional connections between the father and son at the center of the story, but also the physical structure of the set. Are these two rooms in the same building, or are they not on the same continent? Is this a tightly-knit family, or has it been years since they’ve spoken to each other? We spend the entire film changing our minds. Continue reading

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Managing Cynicism: This Year’s Great Crop of Sundance Online Shorts

25 Jan

Maybe I’m a bit cynical. That’s not true. I’m excessively cynical. I could claim it comes naturally once you’ve seen too many movies, but that doesn’t seem like a good enough excuse. And the 2012 Sundance Film Festival’s online shorts are a perfectly illustrative example of why any exhausted approach to new movies is a bad idea.

American independent film has arguably hit a point of stylistic ferment. There’s a ton of exciting and innovative new work produced every year, but there’s also a growing list of aggravating indie film trends. Documentaries about cute old people doing something unexpected en masse, raucous banter-heavy family comedies, quirky teenagers that talk like cynical 30-somethings. It’s true that each of these styles initially caught on because of some genuinely excellent films, but that doesn’t make the inferior ones any less irritating. If I were to say “oh, it was just another bad Sundance movie” a lot of people would have a pretty clear stereotypical image, though it might vary based on the individual.

All of that drives the cynicism. You can sense a dreadful movie in its first few minutes; it’s so easy to put it into a box. Yet take heed! Apparently it doesn’t always work that way (I know, duh). Sometimes that instant recognition is right (see Jesus Henry Christ). But often it’s totally wrong. Seven of the nine Sundance online short films had me convinced for a good 1-3 minutes that they were going to be predictable and frustrating. Each one of them proved me wrong. Continue reading

Accolades: CIFF Awards and Caretaker for the Lord

17 Oct

The Chicago International Film Festival closes up shop later this week, but they’ve already handed out the Hugo Awards. The big feature prize went to Le Havre, which I quite like (though it isn’t Kaurismäki’s best by a long shot). Actually, I have to shout agreement with a number of the awards: The Forgiveness of Blood, Cinema Komunisto, and The Good Son are all films I raved about at Spout. But that’s hardly what I’m here to say.

Nine shorts were awarded at CIFF this year, with Hugos and Plaques alike. The Golden Hugo went to The Eagleman Stag, which I must say looks pretty fantastic. As for the other eight awards, they’re spread out over six different countries (with the notable absence of the USA). None of the winners are available on the web, and I’ve only seen one of them myself. However, I loved Caretaker for the Lord so much that it’s worth talking about anyway.

The film, which picked up the Silver Hugo for Best Documentary Short, is the best documentary short I saw at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. And there was some stiff competition. Director Jane McAllister brought her camera to dying community church St. Luke’s and St. Andrew’s in Glasgow, Scotland to capture its final days on film. The result is a quiet, elegiac piece that brings life to this aging congregation even as it faces its end. Continue reading

Festival Focus: Music Videos on the Big Screen at Tucson Film and Music Festival

7 Oct

I cannot tell you how many times I have looked dreamily at the shorts line-up of some faraway film festival, desperately wishing someone would fly me to Austin, Venice, or even Cleveland. That rarely ends up happening. However, as is often the case, we have the Internet to thank for a consolation prize of sorts. The Short Rounds: Fantastic Fest piece I put together for Movies.com last week is a good example of what I’ll try accomplishing here. The experience of attending a film festival in person is irreplaceable, but here at ShortStack we’ll do the best we can remotely. To kick things off: Tucson Film and Music Festival, running now through Monday.

Now, there are a number of cool things on the TFMF program I could talk about. There’s Guru, a documentary short I saw at Tribeca this year. It’s fantastic, an unsettling psychological tour de force that looks at a motivational speaker spiraling out of control. There’s a new fiction short by Chad Hartigan, which looks interesting and which I’m sure I’ll have cause to write about once I’ve seen it. Neil LaBute even pops up, having written the screenplay of an inevitably bold short called After-School Special. Yet in spite of all that, the one aspect of the fest that draws me in the most is their Music Video-Rama. Music videos are easily seen on the web but almost never on the big screen, and the very idea of having a festival program of music videos is pretty cool.

Of course, if you’re not in Tucson you don’t have much chance to actually catch the event. Thankfully, most of the videos are available online. Here are a few favorites: Continue reading