By Gary M. Kramer.
The Tribeca Film Festival’s shorts programs, curated by Sharon Badal offer slices of life that are often more satisfying than the features that play alongside them. The programs are thematically linked. The New York programs—one narrative, one documentary—are always highlights of the fest.
In the “New York Double Espresso” program, eight shorts examined relationships within or in one dazzling feature, simply with, the city. Early Sunday Morning, set in a Times Square movie theater, was a lovely overture for the program, a non-verbal pas de deux between two people in an empty cinema. The Statistical Analysis of Your Failing Relationship, is a hilarious and heart-tugging dramatic romantic comedy about a couple falling in love and possibly breaking up. Deftly directed by Miles Jay, this witty tale (based on Jory John’s “McSweeney’s” story) involves Nate Silver (Griffin Newman) predicting the couple’s chances of staying together. It’s not good—the chances—but the short is fantastic. It should be an Oscar contender. Let’s Not Panic is an amusing short about a therapy patient, her doctor, and the end of the world that generates a few chuckles. Far more serious, but incredibly satisfying is the superb Blitz about a father-son chess match which extends beyond the game. Short, sharp, and smart, this one is a gem. George and the Vacuum is a lovely little black and white drama starring Fred Armisen and Sophia Takal as a couple taking a walk down memory lane. It’s poignant, but perhaps a bit too slight. Wrapped, which clocks in at just over 4 minutes features dazzling animation to make it’s point about regeneration and features something no New York City film program should be without: a rat. Stop is a serious and timely drama about an African American teenager who is stopped by police on his way home. The film shrewdly directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, leaves just enough ambiguity to prompt viewers to fill in some blanks. The only disappointing entry in the “New York Double Espresso” program was the final entry, which is usually the strongest. Best Man Wins, starring and produced by a very fine Tim DeKay, is too long and elaborate in its set up. However, once it approaches its punchline, this short about revenge and infidelity succeeds.
The “New York Daily Grind” program, featuring short documentary films, was also incredibly strong. We Live This showcased a quartet of African American teenagers who dance on the subway trains, to the pleasure and annoyance of the passengers. What director James Burns reveals about the lives of these young men makes them sympathetic, and provides some understanding about why they perform. Performance is also at the heart of Better to Live, a well-meaning short about “The Reality Show,” a musical that is used to educate freshmen college students at NYU about issues ranging from suicide and cutting to coming out and rape as well as racial and gender differences. The film touches on many important issues, and feels as if it should be developed into a feature. What Lies Beneath the Sky was a poignant experimental short on the after effects of Hurricane Sandy, narrated by Chantal Ackerman. It served as a transition film for the program, which featured three remarkable shorts. Man Under told the stunning tale of a motorman (subway conductor) who grapples with the hazard of having a woman throw herself in front of his train on his first day of work. The facts about such incidents are startling, and the film is heartfelt and heartbreaking. Last Call, directed by Stefan Nadelman, was an amusing portrait of the patrons of the Terminal Bar in New York City, where Nadelman tended bar and took the many photos, which illustrated this short. Lastly, The Many Sad Fates of Mr. Toledano chronicled the efforts of Phil Toledano, a photographer, to depict the possible physical and mental experiences he will have as he ages. It is a remarkable project, captured with verve by director Joshua Seftel.
The “Tightrope” program featured six films that deal with issues of poverty, racism, death and migration, all of which feature tense moments at their core. The romantic-comedic short The Kiss, from Spain, had two best friends reconsidering the status of their relationship when one asks the other for a kiss. It’s another spin on the friends or lovers gender dynamic made irresistible by the two attractive performers. Big Boy also uses humor to disarm a possibly difficult experience, that of a young boy using the men’s room on his own for the first time. The end credits show the set design is the best thing about this short.
The Way of Tea was a thoughtful, well-made and well-acted parable about the possibility of peace between an Arab and a skinhead. It is very well intentioned, and based on reality, just like the next film in this program, Kingdom of Garbage, an atmospheric tale of two orphan children in a dump, one of whom wants desperately to go to school. Bandito is perhaps the weakest short of the bunch, a tragic morality tale that fails to earn the audience’s sympathy. In contrast, the stunningly shot Last Base is an oddly poignant tale of reveals itself in layers (and should not be spoiled).
Finally, two of the best shorts were A Mighty Nice Man, by Jonathan Dee, who adapted a Patricia Highsmith short story. Shot in luminous black and white, the film has two young girls smitten with a possibly dangerous stranger (Billy Magnussen). Dee milks this drama for incredible suspense throughout, creating a film that is absolutely perfect in both tone and style. The House is Innocent, was a very funny documentary short about a couple who purchased and rehabbed a notorious Sacramento property, the site of a horrific mass murder site. The comic one-liners and the couple’s cheeky sensibility certainly smooth over any unease about the residence in question, which is, as the film suggests, innocent.
Gary M. Kramer is the author of Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews, and co-editor of the recently published Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.