Wednesday, June 3, 2009

In Review: LDSFF '09 Part 8: The Short Films

The short film competition is probably one of the best parts of the festival. I love the format, first of all, and to see ten or eleven of the films right in a row is great. This year, the competition was broken into two segments with about twenty films total. I won't discuss them all, but you can read synopses and get credit information here.

Let me briefly run down my impressions of the most memorable of these films (for me), in no particular order.

The Teller's Tale by Jared Parker and Jared Cook

This is a charming story that is great for anyone with children. It captures the magic that can exist when a father is involved in his childrens' lives and imaginations. Because I love to read to my daughters, this touched me.

The Skeleton Dance by the East Hollywood High stop-motion animation class.

While I found the animation on this one a little bit disturbing, it represented an encouraging and inventive effort by some talented young students.

Face to Face by Spanky Ward

This plain bothered me, and not in an introspective, constructive way. I don't know Mr. Ward (although I see his Craigslist ads all the time), but this seemed like a masochistic attempt to get us all to connect with our inner psychotic murderer. Coming to terms with your dark side is fine, but I thought this was a bit over the top.

In the film, a man is confronted in his home by an evil stranger who looks just like him. Predictably, over the course of their conversation it becomes clear that they're two sides of the same personality. The good self ends up embracing the murderous actions of the bad self, and, as far as I could tell at one viewing, embracing his evil nature as well.

True, we all do some things that we're ashamed of. We might even hide them from our consciousness as the man in this film did. But I just think Face to Face takes too bleak a view of human nature. We're not all murderers at heart, and when we come to realize our mistakes, most of us still desire to overcome our weakness. The absence of atonement here would be interesting if it were deliberate, but it seems unlikely that this was the case. Instead, this film simply gives up on human goodness and tells us all to go ahead and go to hell, since there’s no other place, really, although I doubt that even that was deliberate. My biggest problem with this film is not that it has dark and difficult themes or that the ending is unhappy; it's that the film seems utterly devoid of any constructive virtue. It denigrates both the main character and the audience.

Fifty Cents by Ali Barr and Sally Meyer

I thought this was an enchanting tale of the young learning from the old, and vice versa. Sally Meyer's gifts for short form writing come through here.

These Words are Mine by Robert Higginson, Brian Higginson, and Carol Lynch Williams

I'll take an extra minute on this because it applies to us as artists. This is a wonderful story of how an "impossibly horrible" writer uses her words to send the messages she's too shy to speak outright. The writer's boyfriend is reluctant to act as critic for her latest story because he doesn't want to endure its badness, but also doesn't want to hurt her feelings. He comes to understand, however, that although the words may be ill-chosen, the message is heartfelt, and it's for him.

In the Church, we have a high tolerance for people who are well intentioned but awkward in their execution. We almost expect people to be blunderers because, after all, the Lord looks on the heart and we certainly don't claim to be qualified for our callings do we? Our wills to be humble turn us all into this cute writer who does her best but invariably fails. What we hope is that those we're ministering to will understand our intent and not get caught because we're not mighty in writing. In LDS film, we similarly see a lot of attempts by people who mean well, but lack the polish of seasoned professionals. My question is, is that okay, expected, or even desirable?

The Edge of the World by E.R. Nelson

This is the second animated entry, and teaches a rather blunt lesson about recognizing what you have and being content with it.

A Piece of Infinity by Janine and Jamie Sides

This was probably the closest I came to shedding tears during this competition. It is an absolutely heart-wrenching look at relationships lost and the hope for the future.

Unhinged by Nick Stentzel and Diane Mayne

Like These Words are Mine, this film takes a look at art and relationships. This time though, the artist's obsession keeps his relationship from becoming meaningful, but he is awkward in art because he has no time for love. He almost loses his girl and his art, but he finally learns to let her in and finds the inspiration he's been looking for.

Best Wishes, Love Adele by Whitney Donald

A touching look at misunderstandings and forlorn hopes of romance, this film stands out because it takes a compassionate look at certain issues related to aging. I love the charitable ending, in which the doubters learn that the old man is big-hearted, rather than manipulative.

Mind the Gap by Kristal Williams-Rowley and Marcy Holland

This was the winner of the competition, and deservedly so. It centers on Sara, the daughter of a railroad engineer whose train is the weapon in a classmate's suicide. Sara struggles to deal with her feelings of bitterness towards the dead girl and her sense of injustice at the victimization (not for the first time) of her father, who copes with his own feelings by keeping a collection of small items found on the bodies of the people he has hit. Not only does this film reveal some startling statistics about the railroad industry, it openly confronts some difficult issues that are not often addressed simply because they are not obvious. The storytelling is superb. I was left feeling unsure whether this was a purely fictional film or a docu-drama. The film is beautiful, difficult, and in the end, uplifting.

1 comment:

Brent Leavitt said...

I had given a lot of thought to Mind the Gap after it took the first place award at this year's festival. This film is by Kristal Williams-Rowley, a filmmaker out of Boston. Last year she had a curious piece in the festival about bird-guy coming to terms with his bird like features (terrible synopsis, I know). From my understanding, both were student projects. While last year's was an abstractly entertaining approach to a semi-serious topic, this year's film was straight forward, real life drama with an unexpected burst of light at the end that should be characteristic of all LDS cinema.

Very strong applause goes out to Kristal and all who helped her with Mind the Gap.