SXSW 2021 has come to an end, and all the lucky festival viewers have stepped away from their respective screens, bleary-eyed from trying to take in as much content as possible...
...The full-length features tell their story (or at least attempt to) in about 90 minutes or so, and while several Midnighter entries earned high praise, we would like to draw attention to the shorts. 13 films made their appearance in the Midnight Short category and while each one provides some unique contributions to the genre, a few stood out for their ability to develop deep emotions and tell engaging stories, all within 20 minutes or less. They go off like flashbulbs before your eyes, blinking out in an instant, their ghosts lingering in your vision long after they’re finished.
Written/directed by Ariel Zengotita
I admit, Flick is…a lot. It follows the deranged downward spiral of an isolated college student who begins to lose his mind after finding an unmovable booger stuck to his finger. It’s disgusting, unnerving, kinda dumb, and a whole lotta bizarre. But I have not stopped thinking about the film since watching it for the first time. It transported me back to a period in my life when mental illness was blossoming in my head completely unchecked, causing me to isolate myself from everyone I loved. Being alone with your thoughts can sometimes feel like an oasis, but it can also smother you. For me, it was like having a voice constantly whisper all the things I hated about myself mixed with every memory from my past I wished I could forget. It was like having a stain (or in Flick’s case, a monster booger) on my psyche that wouldn’t go away no matter what I threw at it.
I suspect a large portion of folks who end up watching Flick won’t find it a pleasant experience, and I totally get why. Booger Cinema is an acquired taste, to say the least. For me, though, it tapped into a dormant memory of weirdness from years gone by and embodied those lonely days with startling accuracy. That’s the beauty of short films sometimes: they take you to a place that’s awful to be in, but at least you don’t have to stay there long.
Joanne is Dead
Written/directed by Brian Sacca
With the brevity associated with the short film genre, the storyline can sometimes resemble more of a set-up for a joke than a traditional narrative. In Joanne is Dead the scene starts with two orderlies gabbing about their day and exchanging intimately detailed banter reserved for only the best-est of friends. The light-hearted atmosphere and humorous dialogue set the tone for a comical payoff, but then the male orderly meets up with Myrtle and things get a bit more serious. Myrtle is a dementia patient at the care facility, and she has some stories. As the moustache-wearing orderly instructs Myrtle on walking and peeing, the patient shares secrets. Dangerous secrets. How she uses a fake name. How she was a spy. How she killed a woman and wore her face as a mask. All shocking revelations, but no concern for the attendant. He just wants to get Miss Myrtle back into bed so he can meet up with his friend at the bar.
The tone says comedy, but Myrtle says otherwise. Is she losing her mind? Or is she actually a badass spy? Following the anatomy of a joke we have our base situation (two friends discussing the bar), create some misdirection (introduction of Myrtle), and now all that’s left is the punchline. All the proper components of a well-told joke, Joanne provides a humorous ending and will have you applauding the antics of Miss Myrtle.
Written/directed by Theo Rhys with Joss Holden-Rea
A dark and beautiful taxidermy love-story musical seems a lot already for such a short film but Stuffed also demonstrates the life cycle of a dream and how focusing on goals can actually blind a person from true happiness. Not a small achievement for a film coming in under twenty minutes.
Co-written and directed by Theo Rhys, this short musical tells the story of a talented taxidermist who believes she already completed every challenge available to her and now only her final dream remains: to stuff a human. In the driving opening number, we see the lead character announce her dream and immediately fall to the internet as she searches for someone willing to help her accomplish her vision. She realizes her dream when she meets Bernie, an older gentleman afraid of dying. Her dream and his fear intersect nicely, and soon the taxidermist is on the way to reaching her goal. The two hit it off and find a connection in each other never felt before. And while a romance seems inevitable, nothing can stand in the way of a dream. The story pulls viewers in (not only because of the hauntingly beautiful score) but also the focus on the relatable topic of dreams. The struggle which arises in the short resonates with the audience because most people at some point in their life must ask themselves: Does the desire for love outweigh fulfilling a dream?
The Thing That Ate the Birds
Written/directed by Sophie Mair and Dan Gitsham
It’s astonishing what some shorts are able to achieve in such a tiny window of time. The worlds they can create, the way they can communicate facets of a person’s life so thoroughly to us in a couple of shots that you feel like you understand them on a deep level in a matter of minutes or even seconds. The first few moments of The Thing That Ate the Birds (which tells the story of Abel (Eoin Slattery), an alcoholic gamekeeper who runs afoul of a deadly creature that’s been stalking and killing his flock) perfectly convey the frosty climate that hangs in the air of Abel’s home and the gulf that divides him and his wife, Grace (Rebecca Palmer). It’s the kind of tension that you feel instantly after walking into a room where two people have been fighting, and it is recreated expertly.
Piled onto all that atmosphere is a story about the consequences of our actions and how, more often than not, the fallout from allowing our demons to lead our hearts hurts not only us, but the ones we love as well. The look shared between Abel and Grace in the final seconds of the film is absolutely haunting; she is a casualty of his selfishness (the pain in her eyes in that moment screams “YOU did this, are you happy now?”) and all he can do is stand there, frozen in his realization of what comes next.
You can currently watch the SXSW shorts here.
By Amylou Ahava and Patrick Brennan
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