I was proud to be Co-Chair of the Program Committee for this year’s festival. And though the entire Program Process is a collaborative affair, the selection of the Shorts Program was all mine. As such, you have to hopefully find the right balance of comedies & dramas, and also remember that your tastes are not necessarily the same as everyone else’s. This was definitely evidenced during the Audience Vote tabulations. Though for the most part the common consensus of the quality of the shorts was in line with my own opinion below, I was surprised how certain films which I enjoyed had some low votes, and the one Average (C) short scored higher than I would have thought.
Below are my reviews of the Shorts in the order they were screened, and not how I rated them.
Writer & Director: Evan Roberts
Star: Spence Seigel
Eddie (Spencer Seigel) is the fourteen year old gangly neighbor of Chad. Chad is seventeen, fit and straight. After spying on Chad measuring his manhood against the teeth of a comb, Eddie decides to see how his stacks up to Chad’s
This is a cute, humorous, but slight short about self-esteem and self-awareness. Eddie is aware that he is gay and likes Chad, but he knows Chad is into girls. Eddie also gets a welcome boost of self-esteem when he learns he–the little guy–stacks-up very well against Chad–the jock. The story is well constructed with little dialogue, but good visuals that covey what Eddie is thinking and feeling.
Spencer Seigel handles the role of Eddie well. Initially he comes across as meek and embarrassed about himself, but grows in confidence as the story develops. You route for him with his euphoric reaction at the end of the film.
Grade = B-
Writer & Director: Till Kleinert
Star: Benjamin Thorne
Boys Village is a gothic tale about an abandoned boys summer camp for coal miners sons that burned down back in the 30’s. In this lonely and desolate setting Kevin (Benjamin Thorne) imagines going to classes in the abandoned buildings, praying in the chapel, and has conversations with dolls made from found objects. But his existence is interrupted whenolder kids enter his lonely life and vandalize the village & his “friends”.
Till Kleinert has fashioned a well paced modern gothic tale. The look of the film is appropriately bleak, and the use of music haunting. The scene when Kevin is chased by one of the older boys is tense and well-edited. Benjamin Thorne is superb as the peculiar lonely boy with no real friends.
Grade = A-
Director: Josh Levy
Writer: Scott Thompson
Star: Scott Thompson
Scott Thompson plays himself as an actor who has to lose the incredible weight of four pounds in four weeks. Against the better wishes of his partner, Elliot, and mother (Thompson) he begins his diet; hallucinations and lose of will power quickly ensue.
4 Pounds is a comedy. The short looks good, and its sight gags deliver. Though it won’t make you think, it will make you laugh. Unfortunately its premise is as light as air and will not stay in your memory.
Grade = C
Writer & Director: Katie Rotondi
Stars: Marcus Paul James, Cheryl Horne, and Rick Hamilton
Michael (Marcus Paul James) has been in a committed relationship with Charlie (Rick Hamilton) for fifteen years when Charlie suddenly dies. Devastated, Michael must work with Celine, Charlie’s mother, on the funeral arrangements. Initially cooperative, disagreements begin and Michael is left out of the arrangements because his is not legally married to Charlie.
Michael is a musician and singer, and his abilities are used to great effect in his emotionally raw ballad for Charlie at the service. With his grief laid bare for all to witness, Celine truly becomes aware of the love Michael felt for her son.
The story is told in a nonlinear fashion. We begin at the funeral home with Michael and Celine making the arrangements, and as the story moves forward you are shown Michael’s & Charlie’s history in flashback. Though Celine could have easily been portrayed as a purely one dimensional horrible person, Katie Rotondi (Writer & Director) is careful to show you what she is feeling and her motivations. Both Marcus Paul James and Cheryl Horne deliver strong multifaceted performances.
Grade = B+
“7 Deadly Kisses”
7 Deadly Kisses
Writer & Director: Sammaria Simanjuntak
Stars: Sunny Soon, Daud Sumolang, and Vivian Idris (Voice)
7 Deadly Kisses is not so much a story but a funny skit. Two friends go into a booth where there are shown the seven deadly kisses to avoid when dating a woman. As the computer voice (Vivian Idris) talks, the kisses are listed and Sunny and Daud made to demonstrate on each other what to and not to do. Once the lesson is complete, the voice encourages them to leave and demonstrate their new knowledge on women. But as the voice continues to encourage them to leave, Sunny & Daub have discovered they enjoy kissing each other.
Though a skit, it is well structured with a clear beginning, middle & end. Both leads are game, and make appropriately funny faces when necessary.
Grade = B-
(Winner Jury Selection and Audience Award for Best Short)
Writer & Director: James Valdez
Stars: Javier Lezama, Tyler Kimball, and Jennifer Eagle
With the recent repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, Fallen Comrade is a timely tail. The story is a nonlinear tale of Julien Reyes (Javier Lezama) and Alexander Ward (Tyler Kimball). During Alex’s military burial we see Julien’s memory of their relationship. How Alex helped him in Basic Training, how they developed a relationship together, how they served together, and how Alex died in combat with Julien trying to save him. A powerful burial ceremony is made more impactful with the thoughtful actions of Alex’s mother (Jennifer Eagle) once it is complete.
James Valdez (Writer & Director) has served in combat and is currently active in the reserves. His experiences in service, use of actual servicemen in the basic training scenes, and access to military equipment brings an amount of authenticity to the scenes not normally found in Short Films with such small budgets. The use of music is also expertly done. The Bjork song used as Julien, alone and distraught in his apartment, remembers the passion he had with Alex makes you feel his loss and passion. The Leann Rimes rendition of Amazing Grace is equally powerful during the Twenty-One Gun salute and the presentation of the flag.
The acting is strong across the board. Though not on-screen much, Tyler Kimball is able to express Alex as a compassionate person. Javier Lezama depicts Julien as someone who is initially too proud to receive help, but is later able to feel real emotion towards another person and expose himself to the pain of loss. Jennifer Eagle, in her few scenes as the distraught mother, resonates without saying one word.
Grade = A
(Winner of the Audience Special Consideration Award for Short Film)
Writer & Director: Michael Morgenstern
Stars: Chris London & Dan Shaked
It is Friday night and the Shore’s invite the Bernstein-Cohen’s to their home for Shabbat Dinner. After dinner William Shore (Michael London) and Virgo Bernstein-Cohen (Dan Shaked) excuse themselves to William’s bedroom. While their parents talk in the family room, William & Virgo awkwardly get to know each other better. Virgo reveals that he recently came-out to some friends and his parents. William thinks it’s cool he had the balls to do that. He then continues the conversation by asking what it is like to kiss a man and how Virgo knew he is gay. As their parents get to know each other in one room, William & Virgo get to know each other in the other.
The script is both funny and genuine. William’s & Virgo’s initial conversation in the bedroom is awkward and stunted with one word answers to questions & long pauses. The conversations between the parents are frenetic and tense; the wives having to change the subject when topics of discussion become slightly heated. Michael Morgenstern (Writer & Director) in effect has created two stories. The minor story involving the parents is shot with an–for lack of a better adjective–orange glow, with humorous music, and odd camera angles. The major story of William & Virgo is shot clearly and quietly.
Both actors give solid performances. You feel they are young and inexperienced; trying to figure out who they are. Also, their timing of line delivery and side glances during the different scenes brings additional humor to the script and visuals. Two stand out moments are when William reiterated to Virgo he is not gay after their make-out session, Virgo then gives William a peck on the lips, and William tells him to leave his number. Later, as Virgo and his parents are leaving the apartment he looks over their heads to William, William looks from his father to Virgo and back again, all the while William’s father stares at William having caught the both of them in the bedroom.
Grade = A