By Gary M. Kramer.
Two shorts programs at this year’s New York Film Festival feature new and exciting works by debut, established, and returning filmmakers.
The International Shorts Program II opens with the U.S. premiere of Veslemøy’s Song. Canadian filmmaker Sofia Bohdanowicz’s black and white short revolves around the largely forgotten musician Kathleen Parlow. This slight film presents poetic voice-overs and diary entries along with images and archival photos. Many scenes – arguably too many – feature a woman (Deragh Campbell) listening to Parlow’s music, becoming frustrated when the song ends abruptly. Bohdanowicz’s short may frustrate viewers, too.
From Argentina comes the gentle, droll Let Us Now Praise Famous Movies, by Nicolás Zukerfeld. A copy shop employee is beleaguered when he is asked to translate a Manny Farber article on The Ox-Bow Incident and help a friend shoot a fireworks sequence on his parent’s balcony. Zuckerfeld ties these two elements of filmmaking and criticism together through a clever voiceover and scenes of movie-making that is both meta and amusing.
The Glorious Acceptance of Nicolas Chauvin, is Benjamin Crotty’s (Fort Buchanan) arch comedy about the title character (Alexis Manenti), a wounded soldier giving a speech at a lifetime achievement award, only to disclose, through flashbacks, that his life may not quite be as he imagined. His parents are questionable, he joined the army and hated Napoleon, and behaves badly both in the past and on stage in a series of anachronistic scenes. Manenti throws himself into the role making Chauvin a charming bastard who gets Crotty’s joke. Audiences should too.
Black Dog, the sole American entry in the program, is also the only animated one. Director Joshua Tuthill’s film recounts the experiences of the Mercury astronauts in space as it depicts the story of a family. After one of the sons befriends a dog, tragedy strikes. The film’s visuals – even a series of spanking scenes – are gorgeous. The tone soon gets surreal, but the parallel narratives never quite connect.
Rounding out the program is Zhengfan Yang’s hypnotic Down There, a single still shot of multiple illuminated windows in an apartment building shows various people going about their business at night. However, when sounds from outside suggest someone is in trouble, a couple debates whether to call the police. The film recalls the Kitty Genovese story, where folks watched a woman struggle and die, but did nothing because they felt someone else would act. It’s a powerful story that remains timely, as Down There illustrates.
The New York Stories shorts program contains six films, all World Premieres, set in and around New York City and state.
The Chore is Ashley Connor and Joe Stankus’ poignant drama about family, food, and loneliness. Two brothers (Don and Rick Stankus) go for a supermarket run, and talk about their lives, past and present. Their relationship is warm and caring, but the filmmakers provide a nice reveal at the last minute that suggests there may be something deeper bubbling under the surface.
God Never Dies/Dios Nunca Muere is set in the Hudson Valley, where an undocumented immigrant (Mónica Del Carmen) and beleaguered mom ekes out a hardscrabble life with her two young children. When the daughter soils a mattress, she tries to resolve the problem, only to encounter an even greater problem. Director Barbara Ciggarroa keeps this short compelling by providing a strong sense of place.
The North Wind’s Gift is Michael Almereyda’s (Marjorie Prime) adaptation of an Italo Calvino fable. Shot in arty black and white, the story concerns a young mother (Leighton Meester) who asks the wind to provide for her hungry family. He gives her a microwave with special powers, but her landlord takes it from them after her husband’s carelessness. She soon finds a crafty solution with the wind’s help. Almereyda’s film is a smart parable about trust and economic inequality and well-acted by Meester.
Quarterbacks is set at the Olympic Flame Diner in New York City (near Lincoln Center). It is here where three friends meet to eat and discuss the NFL Draft. What emerges, however, is an intriguing conversation on race and sports in America and the double standards that African American men (both in and out of sports) face. Director Jason Giampietro (Hernia) shrewdly uses footage of draft clips to make the point that the meritocracy of football treats white players like Josh Rosen differently than Lamar Jackson, an African American rookie quarterback.
To the Unknown is another short by Michael Almereyda. A rhapsody for New York, it features a cat with a bad paw hobbling around the city as the director reads Kenneth Koch’s title poem. Including images of skylines and sunsets, it may be the ultimate cat video.
Rounding out the program is the Ada, Eleanore Pienta’s film, which was not available for preview, stars the director as a woman trying to cross town and encountering obstacles along the way.
Gary M. Kramer writes about film for Salon, Cineaste, Gay City News, Philadelphia Gay News, The San Francisco Bay Times, and Film International. He is the author of Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews, and the co-editor of Directory of World Cinema: Argentina, Volumes 1 & 2.