IFF Boston 2012: Narrative Shorts (IV)

22 May 2012, 6:04 am

The lone narrative shorts package this year was one of my favorite screenings of the festival, with hardly a weak spot. I’m interested in seeing more work from all of the featured filmmakers.

Kat Candler’s “Hellion” was a supercharged start to the morning, with an aggressive sound design and a story that was funny, unsettling, affecting, and thought-provoking in the space of six economical minutes.

Alexander Carson’s “We Refuse to Be Cold” is a relationship drama with the sort of finely observed detail that tempts me to wonder if there are autobiographical elements (a temptation not alleviated by Carson himself playing the male lead, “Alex”). It recalled past relationships for me, and Dar Williams’ song February, where winter is in obstacle to get through, and one that a relationship literally may not weather. I empathized with the characters, but I’m very glad to not feel like I’m living in the shadow of seasonal affective disorder.

Matthew Rankin’s “Tabula Rasa” is a brief, magical realist tale of a catastrophic flood. I liked its impressionistic cinematography and didn’t think it overstayed its welcome, but I thought it was perhaps a little too specifically indebted to Guy Maddin.

Kris Avedisian’s “Donald Cried” was terrific (it won the festival’s Grand Jury prize in the short film category), but it’s the sort of film that doesn’t summarize well: a guy returns to his hometown and through happenstance finds himself stuck spending the day with a former friend he’s glad to have left behind. The performances are extraordinary — a masterful funny/awkward/touching blend — the pacing is great, and the slightly washed-out look of the film is perfect. It looks like you can watch it on Vimeo if you don’t have a chance to catch a screening.

When Dana O’Keefe explained in the post-screening Q&A that “Aaron Burr, Part 2″ had been significantly inspired by Gore Vidal’s Burr I immediately checked the novel out of the library. O’Keefe’s film provokes thought about the relationship between history, myth, past, present, and geography, but it’s also really funny and inventively shot. (The sound design was also outstanding.)

John Wilson and Chris Maggio said in the Q&A that they didn’t intend for “People Parade,” a whacky look at a low-budget variety show gone horribly wrong, to evoke the past, which surprised me — although the film is clearly set in the present day, the featured show is an homage to the show’s founder, and I thought Maggio and Wilson were deliberately recreating the visual tone of an older broadcast. They said, no, it was an artifact of the equipment they used. But it doesn’t really matter, this was still very funny in a way that might appeal to fans of the BBC’s willfully wrongheaded “Look Around You” mockumentaries or John C. Reilly’s “Check It Out! With Dr. Steve Brule.”

It’s a little tricky to discuss Nash Edgarton’s “Bear,” because it’s more or less a set-up for a sight gag (which I won’t spoil). But it’s very sharply assembled, exactly as long as it needs to be, and viscerally effective.

Johannes Nyholm’s “Las Palmas” must be seen to be believed. A gangster terrorizes a small seaside cafe, with casting that defies description.

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