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Sundance Short Film Explosion 2003

by Chris Parry

Short films are always a test of patience when seen in a large quantity. Some are overtly arty, some are simple one-line gags, some are demonstrations of the filmmaker's expertise. Sundance shorts have been a notoriously mixed bag over the years, but after viewing dozens of shorts at this year's festival it must be said that the state of short filmmaking has rarely been as strong. Below you'll find a rundown of everything we've seen to date, a list of short film reviews more detailed than any other we've seen. Enjoy, and keep an eye out for some of these directors down the road.

What would YOU do for peace in Israel? Ask people who live there and many say they'll do anything. The people in this short are willing to go the extra step - they'll give blowjobs to Yasser Arafat if he'll agree to peace. They'll have anal with Ariel Sharon too. In fact, there's no limit to the lengths some of these ordinary Israelis and Palestinians will go through in the name of peace. And that makes for a very funny short film that is guaranteed to make you laugh. Arik Uri Bar-On directs.

Every year a short film gets into Sundance and proves that every single one of us should be grabbing a video camera and some friends and making our own shorts – because surely we couldn’t do worse than flicks like this. Not that Matthew Ehlers’ Autobank is awful; it’s mercifully short and at least looks professional, but it essentially consists of a bored drive-thru bank employee saying “may I help you” in numerous different ways with a view to helping pass the time. A word to the director; transferring an on-screen character’s boredom to the audience is rarely a recipe for applause.

A US/Israel co-production, Liat Dahan's Climbing Miss Sophie is a look at the lives of a truly disfunctional family consisting of a little ghetto kid, his retarded buddy and his grossly overweight, chemically-dependent mentally unstable mom. A 24-minute short shot in a richly colorful 35mm format, Climbing Miss Sophie is a depressing little piece that looks great, is occasionally funny but ultimately falls a little short of delivering a punchy message.

"If you have had oral or anal sex, please tell the doctor." That's the sign that greets a young latino man as he enters the STD clinic after peeing razor blades all morning. A short film that relies a little too much on wacky characters and zany dialogue, more than a true concept, The Clinic is enjoyable but not exactly 'all that'. Jessy Terrero directs.

This 27-minute short may not be to everyone’s liking, but I sure enjoyed it. An aging cut-man (Jack McCormack), the guy who tries to stop the bleeding if a boxer is cut open, is let go from his job when a bad cut doesn’t stay closed. He has nowhere else to go, so he visits his long lost son with a view to maybe getting back into the kid’s life after years of abandonment. But the son (Timothy Fitzsimmons) isn’t having any part of that and the cut-man’s life goes from bad to worse. Yon Motskin wrote and directed this short and shows an abundance of visual style. The same can’t be said for all of the cast, though McCormack in the lead doesn’t put a foot wrong. The Cutman isn’t a story that needed to be told, but when any story is told in such a quality fashion it’s well worth your time.

This little flique is fantastique. Essentially a trailer for a 'teen schoolgirls as spies' TV series, this schlock short features four very hot gals delivering big karate kicks, hilarious lines of dialogue and a great retro feel. The team consists of the prissy long-haired blonde, the tough short-haired blonde, the always smoking black girl and the constantly needing to be saved raven-haired lesbian, with their archenemy being the notoriously evil Lucy in the Sky. Directed by Angela Robinson, every person who we saw this short film with was unanimous afterwards - the series MUST be made and it must be made now so all the world can enjoy the glory that is D.E.B.S.

Directed and written by Illeana Douglas, this short is an absolute hoot. The Devil (Michael Panes) is feeling totally bored with life. He's got no friends (except for Yanni), he's sick of sodomizing people, and he's decided to hire a publicist to improve his public image. That's pretty much the whole story, which is just fine by me because the Devil's monologues are HI-LARIOUS!

Billed as 'amazing live news footage from a California earthquake,' James Brett's Earthquake is a 2 minute short that provides only one laugh - but it goes from start to finish without break. Not a lot can be said about such a short story without giving it all away, so this is really a film that you'll have to see to appreciate. In fact, no matter how many times you see it, you'll laugh just as hard. Trust me, we watched it three times. In a row.

Enough with the symbolism already. Firepussy is a short film intended to be the 'erotic journey of a volatile Latino poet pyromaniac'. What it will be to most people is 'the confusing journey of a weird Latino chick who doesn't say anything but shoots a lot of footage of Mexican scenery and then showers with another chick. Grace Renn stars, freaks out, then lezz's out in the shower with Lelah Foster. Renn's not the fittest looking woman you'll see on film, but full frontal nudity forgives a lot. Not nearly enough though.

Just a few years ago a computer-animated short like this would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, even millions, but today we're in a whole new ballgame. Anyone with a decent computer and a smart idea can put together jaw-dropping animated art, and Aristomenis Serbis has done just that. The Freak is a weird looking guy who marches to the beat of a different drum. In fact, he doesn't march to it, he dances to it. But The Freak is frowned upon by 'clone' society, where individualism isn't respected… or for that matter permitted. What follows is a very short story following the Freak as he's tested, arrested, busted out of prison and finally blown up. Compelling animated artistry and a story with meaning, this is well worth tracking down.

Way back in the day, when Rudolph Valentino was the certifiable superstar of the western world, many in the male populatin felt that the actor was effeminate and gay. An anonymous newspaper editorial saying essentially that was published in Chicago while Valentino was in town, outraging the Sheik and sending him into a tizz. So it went that he approached famed writer H.P. Mencken with a view to restoring his honor. This short is a recreation of that meeting, where Mencken pontificates on what rely lies behind Valentino's public image and moral indignation. A 15-minute short that perhaps doesn't do enough to delve into the details, this is nonetheless a fine production from director Eduardo Ballerini (who also stars) and an indicator of good things to come.

This is a weird short, but I really liked it a ton. John Lilley directs a slow-moving, mysterious tale of a 15-year-old female skate-rat who begins to wonder what the story is with a mop-haired young dude who she sees standing motionless at a bus stop every day. With the atmosphere of a Hal Hartley film crossed with some very Harmony Korine-like casting, it's the kind of flick that takes a while to understand, and when you finally do it's over. Frankly, I could have watched another two hours of this well-shot, moody story.

When your roommate dies from an allergic reaction to fruit and the rent is due and you don't have the cash to cover it, there's no time to mess around picking a new roommate. So it goes that our hero in this short comes to share his home with a ninja. A very funny five-minute flick directed by Steven K. Tsuchida, A Ninja Pays Half My Rent could have been great had it gone ten minutes or longer. Unfortunately the short running time doesn't really allow the true comedic potential of the concept to be extracted, but for what it is, this is a funny 300 seconds.

A paranoid hypochondriac tries to deal with the stress of every day life as he contemplates the poisons, the stresses, the dangers and traps of a normal 24 hour period. Accompanied by fast-paced animated sequences and rapid editing, this is a seriously depressing short to sit through, but you've got to appreciate the style and artistry behind it. Matt Goldman writes and directs, and Stephen Butler stars, but this is more a demo reel than a short film an audience would seek out.

A beautifully shot short, if a little slim on story, Andrew Black's The Snell Show is worth seeing just for the style, the tone and the beauty of the piece. Filmed over three days in Dog Valley Utah, Black used 50mm and 85mm lenses, as well as air cannons and Ritter fans to effectively create a nuclear blast. The Snell Show is not your typical festival short and it's tough to describe without giving the entire thing away, but suffice to say that Andrew Black's experience and talent in short filmmaking is evident.

A fantastic short that really makes use of the medium, Frank E. Flowers' 23-minute film Swallow tells the tale of a guy with no hope of a college scholarship taking to the drug world as a means of getting some finances. Playing out like a big budget action feature, this is an edge of your seat project that ends far too soon, featuring fine acting, great production values and a well-written story. Absolutely flawless and a sign of great things to come from this director.

In 1952 Ray Harryhausen directed a short film based on the story of the Tortoise and the Hare. For whatever reason, the short was never completed and stuck on a shelf for the proceeding fifty years. In 2002 the film was finally dug up and completed, and even against today's standards, the stop motion animation used is flawless. What might draw away from the film however is that it's just too spooky. The rabbit character is the stuff of childhood nightmares, the fox that referee's the big race likewise, and the overall feel of the piece is not exactly happy. As an example of Harryhausen's brilliance, this has few peers, but it's surely for history buffs only.

A brothel filled with Asian sex-workers does a roaring trade, but one Korean girl doesn't exactly enjoy her life of sexual servitude. Abraham Lincoln Kim's 12 minute short starts well and certainly puts the audience into the reality of the sex trade, but it also loses track at times and seems to be as much about showing skin as making a point. This confusion takes away from what could have been.

Yes, we all know that the September 11 tragedy has been over-played to the point of ad nauseum in many areas of the press, but it’s simply not possible to fault this look at one aspect of the 9/11 attacks. Twin Towers shows us a New York police officer, many times decorated, as he moves up the ranks as an officer and proves himself to be an extraordinary individual both on and off the job. Then we move forward to September 11 2001, when the officer and his firefighter brother were both called out to help before the buildings toppled. Neither came home that day. With footage that, to this day, makes the hairs on your neck stand on end, this may not be an easy spectacle to watch, but it certainly is an important one. Kudos to Bill Guttentag and Robert David Port, as well as executive producer Maury Povich, for the kind of reminder we could all use that what we’ve forgotten deserves to stay remembered.

Using reports taken from newspapers of the 30's, this niftily animated short uses black and white images, a retro style and and interesting true story to take us back to a time when an ingenue was put on trial for murder but won public support by the mere fact that she was breathtakingly gorgeous. Directed by Jen Sachs, this is a great 11-minute short that leaves you with more than a message, it leaves you with a little education on a long forgotten moment in 20th century American history. Great stuff.

Stay tuned for more!

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originally posted: 01/19/03 13:28:31
last updated: 03/14/05 03:53:29
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