On The Short List of Palm Springs Films
The long and short of it is that the Palm Springs Short Film Festival, August 21-27, provided once again a cornucopia of short subjects, documentary, feature, live action and animation, from all over the world, from student filmmakers to those of great renown.
During a package titled “Shooting Stars,” actor Kirsten Dunst showed her directorial chops in the supernatural thriller Welcome. A young wife and mother (Winona Ryder) has moved into an elegant new home in L.A. The only problem is the malevolent spirit that drags her child out of her bed and makes unnerving noises. Dunst gives us the creeps, in a good way, relying on terrific, terrifying cuts and the impeccable sound design of Richard Beggs.
Kate Hudson also showed a great deal of charm and assurance in Cutlass, in which her real life dad, Kurt Russell, plays a father whose daughter, a present-day mom with a child hankering for an expensive guitar, remembers when she bludgeoned dear old dad to help her buy an expensive, cherry-red Cutlass from a glib owner (Chevy Chase). Lots of guest stars and smiles abound.
A selection of this writer’s other favorite short films:
Procrastination. Dir: Johnny Kelly (UK). Why delay mentioning it? Procrastination, winner of the Best British Animated Short at the London Film Festival, is a high-speed, wry and colorful rumination upon how we waste time. Kelly reminds us, too, thoughtfully, that the topic can be defined as “finding the most difficult way of doing something.” www.mickeyandjohnny.com
Solomon’s Secret. Dir: David Charhon (France). A lovely fantasy about a man who people constantly bump into and ignore and when he becomes completely invisible, he decides to spy on the object of his unrequited love. With a touching but not cloying message about his family roots to the Holocaust and how being unnoticed has served his lineage, Solomon’s Secret has that Gallic sweetness that so many films strive for but lack.
Fertilize. Dir: Senne Dehandshutter (Belgium). Subtitled “Life As It Begins,” Fertilize is ostensibly a dance video but with visual effects, fight choreography, flying bodies, sexual ferocity and a layered soundtrack by an artist who bills himself Junkie XL. The men physically drawn to the female lead are swatted away like flies, among stone monoliths, until one dancing, flying suitor strikes her fancy. www.fertilizethemovie.com
Black Death in Dixie. Dir: Gerry Nelson (Ireland). Of all places, the Irish network RTE commissioned this powerful, half-hour examination of unjustly accused black men on Death Row in Alabama. Nelson’s snappy pacing and heartfelt interviews with those who have been freed and the relatives of those whose lives were ruined is thoroughly engrossing. www.gerrynelson.com/documentary.html
Flourtown. Dir: William Slichter (USA). A dense, beautiful, hypnotic combination of live action and animation, not unlike some of the visions of Dali. The use of munitions result in the tragic loss of two boys’ lives and director Slichter incorporates both fantastical and anachronistic images in this animation tour-de-force.
Life’s Hard. Dir: Gabriel Sirbu (Romania). It is much more than a slice of everyday Romanian life, as a young woman trying to drive a manual transmission car in a big city is forced at knifepoint to drive a thief around. But when she courageously defies him, he lets down his guard and a nascent attraction begins to appear. Quirky yet utterly believable work from all involved.
Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty. Dir: Nicky Phelan (Ireland). This delightful mix of 2D and 3D animation involves a spooky-looking Irish grandmother who embellishes the story of Sleeping Beauty, including some of her own complaints about life, in the process terrifying her little granddaughter. Wonderful voice-over work as well.
You Better Watch Out. Dir: Steve Callen (Australia). Chris Haywood plays a drunken, nasty Santa Claus who is kidnapped and tortured by two not-very-bright young men who believe in Santa and want revenge for the socks they got instead of night vision goggles. Darkly amusing and even moving, as the titular character is forced to pretend to be a real Santa and complain about the disappointments of his own supposed life. www.ybwo.com.
Raspberries. Dir: Morgan Davidsen (Norway). Two young boys try to sell freshly picked raspberries, and their disappointment turns to utter joy in this sumptuously and lyrically shot film that so captures the beauty of a time of season and time of life.
Berni’s Doll. Dir: Jouette Yann (France). Leave it to the French to come up with a sexually perverse yet sweet, black and white, dialogue-free film about a loser who buys a love doll who not only enhances his sex life but his productivity at work. But as he adds arms, legs and finally a head, the doll takes on a bit more independence.
Dog Altogether. Dir: Paddy Considine (UK). Winner of Best Short at the British Independent Film Awards, as well as a Silver Lion at Venice, this portrait of a rage-filled man on the dole has a stunning, brave performance by veteran actor Peter Mullan. Both the writing and Mullan’s work bring a note of sympathy to a man who can viciously attack a dog and innocent teens and yet break down in tears in a Christian charity store. www.warpfilms.com
E1even Roses. Dir: Pedram Goshtasbpour (Canada). This beautifully scored and crafted animation gem tells the tale of an unattractive man who fantasizes winning the love of his life with the titular roses…and his insane response to not getting his way. And yes, it is the number 1, not the letter “L” in the title. www.e1evenroses.com.