Yesterday kicked off the 3rd year that the NYC-based Film Festival presented an online component for viewers at home. Last year we gave you full coverage of over many short films that played in “Digital Screening Rooms”. This year’ the festival has decided to simplify things. Yes, you still need to register with the festival to view the online offerings, but the cumbersome screening windows have been eliminated—each film is viewable through the end of the festival, and the shorts program has dropped to a manageable 5 online premieres. In a classic “quality over quantity” move Tribeca has leveraged its clout to bring us some of the most buzzed about short films of the year however, with films from established names like Neil LaBute, Edward Burns perhaps the internet’s most-anticipated recent short film, the SXSW winner CatCam. Let’s have a look.
CatCam: dir. Seth Keal | USA | 16min—
Cat + camera hack + instagram-style photos + internet famous = 2012 SXSW documentary short winner.
If CatCam was only these elements, it would already be guaranteed its own viral success. Luckily, director Seth Keal created a documentary whose sum is greater than its parts.
Keal’s subject is inventor Juergen Perthold and his family. Juergen and his wife Jenny narrate a chain of events that lead them to unexpected fame. Their back and forth is charmingly intimate. After adamantly blocking a stray cat from entering their home, he later admits “It was me who gave him food. I was guilty of adopting him.”
The “him” in question is Mr. Lee, a tomcat who won their affection but could not be pinned down. A typical owner might be curious where his cat disappears to for days on end. Juergen goes beyond wondering and solders a micro-controller to create a custom camera that hangs from Mr. Lee’s neck. When the inadvertent photographer returned a couple days later, the camera was filled with stunning snapshots from a cat’s-eye view of the world.
Once Mr. Lee’s photos are put on the internet, Juergen and his cat become the center of an unexpected media storm. Throughout the newspaper articles and tv stories, the anchor of the film remains the Perthold family. They are delighted by the interest in their cat and his photos, but it doesn’t go to anyone’s head.
The film is a kind of absurdist case study that allows Keal to touch on philosophical questions reminiscent of Werner Herzog. Is a photo taken by a cat capable of being art? Does Mr. Lee yearn for friends in spite of being a tomcat? When does someone become part of your family?
When it won at SXSW, people who hadn’t seen the film mocked the choice, but Keal has found a fascinating subject. Through Mr. Lee and the Pertholds, he has created a delightful film whose pleasures far surpass its easy inherent cuteness.
review: Michelle Higa
BFF: dir. Neil LaBute | USA | 8min—
Neil LaBute has been on a shorts writing streak since directing the remake of Death at a Funeral in 2010. Sexting made the rounds at festivals last year, and this latest writing and directing short, BFF, is a similar B&W affair, focusing on sex and betrayal. It’s bare-bones approach is an exercise in perfecting simplicity.
A woman confides in her gay best friend that she suspects her boyfriend of an adulterous relationship. The majority of the film is the two characters sitting on a couch having a conversation. The shooting style is no more than framed faces with the occasional wide shot to remind the audience that we are in an apartment. LaBute doesn’t even play with a color palette, using that indie favorite, black and white. The twist at the end may seem predictable, however the performances sell ingenuity. The classicality of this film triumphs over gimmicks that most shorts deliver.
review: Genevieve Okupniak
Doggy Bags: dir. Edward Burns | USA | 14min—
Edward Burns has reinvented himself a bit in the last year, becoming a full-fledged indie-darling once again, a full 17 years after his celebrated feature debut The Brothers McMullen. Where his early career exemplified the festival-model of discovery and promotion, he now is an evangelist for crowdfunding and online distro. The films haven’t substantively changed though, Doggy Bags is a little bit of heart, a little bit of pluck, some comedy and some battle of sexes, tossed into a bag and shook up. It’s cute and breezy, and though the sexual politics is a bit retrograde still—nice guy wins over the scheming girl—it redeems itself well with its ending. Not revelatory but overall a rather enjoyable film.
review: Jason Sondhi
Transmission: dir. Zak Hilditch | Australia | 13min—
Zak Hilditch’s short film Transmission shows a father and young daughter trying to survive in a post bio-apocalypse in the desolate badlands of the Australian outback. As if the punishing outback isn’t enough, the family duo has to find critical food and petrol. Their only hope of staying alive focuses on a mysterious radio transmission broadcasting news about a safe village in the interior. The bleak and scorched Aussie landscape littered with animal carcasses is a surreal backdrop as they face mysterious dangers. The father must prioritize survival while also trying to supervise his young and confused child. Zak Hilditch has created a suspenseful piece that almost tempts you to join this father and daughter team for the rest of their post-apocalyptic road trip.
While the story feels familiar, like a page lifted from an Aussie version of Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’, this short is saturated with a building suspense that drives us straight to a dramatic confrontation. The characters could have been a little more developed but the powerful and thorough images more than make up for that. With so many films being made in the post-apocalypse genre, Transmission should survive to find itself near the top.
review: Craig Downing
Scenes From a Visit to Japan: dir. Joel Schlemowitz | Japan | 14min—
As a programmer you can’t make a short film bill of only celebs and award winners because then how will you demonstrate your highly developed sense of taste? Scenes From a Visit to Japan thus fills that obtuse/eclectic/bizarre spot necessary to any program. Boy though did Tribeca miss the boat. A documentary shot on Super 8 and in three parts, the film like so much art misleads through its high-minded description. Ultimately the film is neither beautiful, personal nor original. Avoid, Avoid!
review: Jason Sondhi