Sundance is over, and with this, the last batch of 2011 Sundance short films released to the Screening Room, this unique collaboration between the most prestigious North American festival and YouTube will be over too. Well…at least till next year, right? Who knows, we will find out.
Now that we’re at the end, I must say that for the last month I’ve had fun getting a chance to see many of these current festival films that otherwise would not be available online. It has also been greatly enjoyable to actually play a real critic for once—praising, but also panning, some of the entries. Remember at SotW we ordinarily only share films we like, so critical reviews are not something I get to do. So yes, I’ve enjoyed some films and not others, but Sundance has successfully put together programs that accurately reflect the festival itself, highlighting filmmakers of many backgrounds, and featuring short films of great diversity in scope, length, style and tone. Some are difficult, some are, in my mind, simply bad, but others are sublime, so I want to thank the festival, YouTube for putting this together and the filmmakers for their participation.
Excuse Me (Duncan Birmingham)
“A couple threatens to splinter apart due to what may or may not have been said in the heat of passion.”
I gave my quick thoughts on this film when it played as part of the online component of November’s AFI Fest. A one-room shoot moved forward entirely by dialogue, the film could have been piece for an acting workshop. Not the most inspired of filmmaking in that sense therefore, however writer/director Duncan Birmingham nails what he has to—good acting and interesting writing redeem.
Jupiter Elicius (Kelly Sears)
A haunted meteorologist dreams of storms that are a lot closer and further away than he thought.
Kelly Sears’ unique and interesting work is an acquired taste, and somehow I’ve managed to avoid acquiring it. First encountering her films via last year’s Sundance Online Program with Voice on the Line (no longer available) I was struck by a film that didn’t really entertain me, but I admired nonetheless. Jupiter Elicius does not elicit that feeling however. A slightly off meteorologist composes a love letter to the eye of Jupiter, the greatest of all storms, and I do not get it. The narration is understated and made it really easy for my mind to drift. Really, nothing worked to hold my attention, the visuals, the story, the vocal performance, or the writing.
The Hunter and The Swan (Emily Carmichael)
A Brooklyn couple have dinner with a hunter and his girlfriend, a magical swan woman. It doesn’t go well.
A little gem of a film. Emily Carmichael writes and directs her take on a common folk-tale, (its amazing how prevalent it is: swan wives, crane wives, selkies…) but transposes it to present-day Brooklyn. While having fun with the conceit (the macro-blocking during the swan bath is riotous), she actually plays it more or less straight, allowing the contrast between the magical couple and the Brooklyn couple to illustrate a valuable point about what is important in relationships. Look out for a Q&A with Emily tomorrow.
Xemoland (Daniel Cardenas)
The story of a seven-year-old boy who is led to believe there is a portal to an alternate reality where all his dreams come true. However, the boy quickly realizes that Xemoland is not the place of his dreams, but of his nightmares.
Xemoland is a film that has me conflicted in my feelings. The tagline is a little misleading, the film is essentially about a kid getting picked on by his older brother and brother’s friend, but managing to dish out some payback in the end. Xemoland has mainstream intentions unlike a lot of festival animations, something I can actually appreciate, as the story goes for comedy and is pretty broad. The 1992 setting allows for some thoughful touches from the era to pop up in places, and the dialogue can be amusing. Despite the aforementioned mainstream aspirations, artistic elements, such as the backgrounds, are very interesting and well done, even though the character design is a bit bland for me.
In the end though Xemoland does not do anything superbly in its 13 min runtime. I watched this one with a friend and he was painfully bored. I can try to find interesting elements in the film, but the truth of the matter is that for my money short films need to stack up with other forms of entertainment, and if Xemoland were to show up at Adult Swim it would not get picked up for development.