Short of the Week

Palm Springs Shortfest Online Film Festival

FestivalOnline ProgramWeb Competition / June 16, 2011

short film festival image

Palm Springs! We are very close to the arrival of North America’s most important film festival dedicated to shorts. I know not everybody follows the festival scene, and I know it gets confusing because I’m always tweeting that Festival X is the most-_____ festival in all of _____, but for short films, trust me, Palm Springs Shortfest is a pretty big deal. And, unlike Aspen for example, it is HUMONGOUS!. 300+ short films screening in 53 different programs.

This is the first year that Palm Springs has decided to put together an online program, and much love to them for doing so. Like AFI-Fest, which also debuted an online program this year, ShortFest Online is lean on online premieres (in this case, zero), so a lot of these will be familiar to religious consumers of SotW.  However, as one more example of an influential festival jumping into the online waters, it is welcome all the same.

These are the ten films selected. Somewhat awkwardly these films were made available on Tuesday, however online audiences who want to vote for a winner won’t be able to until the start of the fest itself on June 21st. I’ll try to remind you all. Voting will take place at the program’s web page.

*****

short film imageBAD DADS: dir. Derek Westerman | 15min | USA—

“Cory (Michael Cera) has a major problem: the worst father in the world. Can his dad’s inappropriate behavior be fixed with just a little more father/son interaction?”

The latest fruit plucked by a film festival from the profusion of high-profile comedy video websites, this series is a College Humor original and has been gaining a following on YouTube and Funny or Die. It is a compilation of 5 webisodes, similar to the Brick Novax’s Diary compilation that won Sundance this year.

Is it funny? Well…it has its moments. A couple of the sketches work. Sketch 3 in particular, where the “Bad Dad” tries to get Michael Cera to give him his “babyface” is an especially guffaw-inducing bit of subversive awfulness. But the laugh/minute ratio isn’t particularly high, and it doesn’t try for any of the emotional depth that might balance out this deficit.

5/10

short film imageBOTTLE: dir. Kirsten Lepore | 5min | USA—

“Two lovers from opposite sides of the world find love when their messages–in-a- bottle cross the oceans. But when Snow and Sand meet, will their love survive?”

I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say this has become one of the most beloved short films of our time. I wrote a glowing review, and it landed on our Best of 2010 list. We also stuck it on our recent Female Animator Playlist. Others are bending over backwards to honor it too. It was a nominee at the Vimeo Awards, featured in AFI-Fest’s online showcase, and Ms. Lepore was just recently honored as one of the Creative 50 by Creativity Magazine, alongside Ai Wei Wei, David Fincher and Tina Fey. So yeah, this short film is pretty good.

10/10

short film imageEYE OF THE STORM: dir. Christopher Alender | 5min | USA—

“A navigator on an airship steers his plane into the eye of a storm in order to release a captive demon in this impressively animated ‘steampunk’ video.”

We tweeted and FB’d this when it came online a few months back. It sports a really lovely aesthetic, like an Final Fantasy cut-scene. Didn’t make it to the site because there is really no story to speak of. Good for what it is, but what it is isn’t what SotW usually looks for.

6/10

short film imageTHE HEIST: dir. Thomas Hefferon | 9 min | UK—

“Three yahoos are out to rob a bank, but these three guys haven’t got a clue about proper robbing etiquette.”

I saw this recently during Tribeca (Online), as it was the opening online offering. Is it well done? Maybe, if you enjoy watching idiots on the screen, but it has never been a genre that appeals to me (well maybe when I was 11 and that idiot was Jim Carrey). The film is not overly clever,  you don’t end up liking the characters, and the twist gave me a kind of sour aftertaste. I don’t like it, but I recognize that my distaste  could be simply a matter of taste.

3/10

short film imageJOHN G. MORRIS: ‘ELEVEN FRAMES’: dir. Douglas Sloan | 8 min | USA

“Robert Capa shot six rolls of film of the D-Day landing but only eleven frames survived. In this fascinating portrait, John G. Morris, ‘the world’s most influential photo editor,’ shares stories from his 70 years in photojournalism.”

Documentary-orthodoxy reigns here in a slick film of talking heads and photographic artifacts. The photos are the draw, John G. Morris is a great man, an influential photo editor of LIFE Magazine, but sadly the people back home in the office are seldom as interesting as the people out taking the pictures themselves—or at least their stories are less dramatic. The most promising story, the one which the film’s subtitle refers, is given an especially short shrift. Technical excellence aside, it’s a by the numbers profile that is not as entertaining as its images.

5/10

short film imageMETHOD ACTOR: dir. Justin Stokes | 3 min | UK

“What makes a great actor great…or merely mad?”

A real treat, a film that has been online for months, but no one seems to have discovered. Director Justin Stokes pulls together great contributions in set design, cinematography, editing and performance, with celebrated UK actor John Shrapnel summoning a very fine gravitas indeed. A brief short that masterfully borrows the best from fiction, documentary and stage.

8/10

short film imageSIGN LANGUAGE: dir. Oscar Sharp | 5 min | USA

“Ben holds up advertising signs on the street to earn his living, and today is his last day on the job. But before he leaves, he’s got a sign of his own that he wants to bring to a certain someone’s attention…”

Another film that has lived a full internet life, we first saw an abbreviated 3 min cut of this film when it won the 2010 Virgin Media Shorts Competition. This longer version doesn’t add too much more to the proceedings; it fails to use the extra length to bulk up the thin romantic angle, opting instead to embellish the main character’s academic pretensions. A cute film that is enjoyable, but ultimately rather forgettable.

6/10

short film imageSON OF MACISTA: dir. Emile Bokaer | 7 min | USA

“Looking back on a sudden episode of serious mental illness, the filmmaker challenges his father to revisit a painful, and, ultimately bonding, moment in their relationship.”

Documentary minimalism. Kinda feels like a low blow to pan such a personal project, but I just found myself bored. It is a touching relationship the two share however.

4/10

short film imageSTEPHANY + ME: dir. | 11 min | USA

“Ben has no luck at love until he meets a woman in the most unexpected place – a massage parlor!”

A very minimalist, dialogue-heavy, indie comedy. Ben goes on a date, it goes poorly, he goes to Thai-massage parlor and makes a connection. Bad dates are awkward enough to live through without having to watch someone else’s in my opinion. This particular genre really does very little for me, so in the guise of being fair, I won’t even grade this one.

short film imageTELL-TALE: dir. Greg Williams | 8 min | UK

“Carla Gugino and Adam Arkin star in this noirish mystery about a young couple who may or may not be involved in the murder of an undercover cop.”

Another SotW-featured film, check out El Vez’s original review. Loosely based on an Edgar Allen Poe story (guess which one!), it features star-power, a celebrated director, murder and steamy sex all in a modern noir wrapper. Yes Please.

8/10


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Co-Founder of Short of the Week, Sondhi lives in Brooklyn working as a Curator for Vimeo. Follow his musings on online video, direct distribution and branded content: @jasondhi.
  • Hans J. Eidisgard

    I had seen Bottle and Eye of the Storm previously, but just watched the rest of these now after you featured them. Wasn’t crazy about any of them, but my favorite was Tell-Tale.

  • Felonious Punk

    Thanks for presenting these. I have to say, I enjoyed “11 Frames”. It might be the best photography in a movie that I’ve seen, and I found the subject, photographer John G. Morris, interesting.

  • Dutch Blaine

    I have to disagree with you about Stephany and Me. I saw it on Facebook and LOVED it. You may not like the genre but it is certainly review-able. Yes, it fits into the “lonely hearts” genre…but it does this very well. Minimalism is its forte. It has an early David Gordon Green charm…perhaps a bit of early Wes Anderson as well…and when I say “early” that is a compliment. It also has a touch of biting sadness/realism like in Cassavettes’ Husbands or Faces. I really have to say that I loved this film and it reminds me of films from serious, smart directors.

  • Jason Sondhi

    Cool! 1 strong vote in favor of Stephany + Me. I thought I was careful to not say that the film was bad, just that it’s the type of film that doesn’t appeal to me much.

  • Felonious Punk

    I think you made it very clear, Jason. I like that you give your honest thoughts on the movie, as it lets me think about whether I agree or not, whether you’ve said everything that needs to be said or not. Personally, I thought “Son of Macista” was flawless. I like how at first I thought the movie was going to be about the interesting dad, and that the boring son was in awe of him, and then it switched and the son became the interesting subject, which was strange since he seems to be the director. And then by the end it’s not about either of them, it’s about their love. One of the best father-son movies in my memory.

  • Jason Sondhi

    I’ll give it another watch. I think the issue that crops up for me at least is that I watch films on the computer, giving me access to doing other stuff, and that, coupled with simply watching a ton of films, can make me cranky. I’ll give the quick hook to something that’s not in my normal wheelhouse and thus SotW gets sadly biased in favor of films with pedigrees and flash.

    Its actually one of the things I admire about festivals, that they are able to program these films that on the surface seem uninteresting.

  • Felonious Punk

    SotW! SotW! The complete absence of condescension in your tone is another reason this website is unbeatable. It’s not about personal egos, it’s about the movies, and spreading the love. Thanks for reminding me of that. In this competitive world, I keep forgetting.

  • Jason Sondhi

    Online Voting is Open. Two more days left.

    http://www.psfilmfest.org/society/events/detail.aspx?FID=51