IFF Boston 2011 : Documentary Shorts 1

8 May 2011, 7:07 am

I didn’t think the documentary shorts program we saw was quite as impressive overall as the narrative shorts program, but I enjoyed it a lot. The unifying theme here was character studies, most of which offer a surprise (which I will not spoil).

Charles Fairbanks’ “Irma” spends a good proportion of its running length on the titular figure’s laborious journey to work (she has trouble with her legs). I thought the framing and pacing of her trip was terrific, by the time she reached her destination I was desperately curious to know what was worth all that effort, and pretty well astonished by the answer.

I really did not expect to like Matt Morris’s “Mr. Happy Man,” about Johnny Barnes, who stands at a busy intersection in Bermuda, and waves to people and tells them he loves them. I was quite unexpectedly won over — it’s neither saccharine or preachy, and thanks to its 11-minute run time, it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Alex Mallis’ “The Dentist” was working for me as a portrait of a man with logorrhea, so a detour in his mildly unusual hobby and quite unusual venue for indulging it took me unawares.

Catherine Van Campen’s “Flying Anne” was probably the most visually striking film I saw in the entire festival - the subtlety of color in the cinematography gives it an almost other-worldly quality. Anne lives with a medical challenge, and I thought the treatment of it veered just a tiny bit toward afterschool special educational territory. But the humanity and humor of Anne’s interactions with her family and schoolmates is warm and vivid.

Sean Dunne’s “The Bowler” is another logorrheic dude — and also a professional hustler.

Lisa Mannhiemer’s “The Contract” is about an arrangement Beverly Charpentier enters into with Catherine Robbe-Grillet.* How to describe this without spoilers? It’s tricky. Mannhiemer describes the contract in terms that initially leave some details vague, in a way calculated, I think, to raise questions in the viewer’s mind. It’s simultaneously subtle and intense.
* not particularly relevant to this short, but yes, the writer Catherine Robbe Grillet, wife of writer Alain Robbe-Grillet)

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