Sunday, May 31, 2009

Serenity Prayers

Today Amanda and I went to the Seattle International Film Festival's short-film package titled "Serenity Prayers," our first couples-only event in quite a while. It was incredibly fun; out of the 15 packages available this year, this grouping seemed most up my alley, and as it turns out I was right. It's hard to find someone to curate your entertainment to your exact tastes, so this was a real treat.

I was going to simply write a few comments about them for posterity's sake, but in looking for pictures to post I actually found a few of the super-short ones available on various websites. So let's have a super-short-film fest:

United Kingdom, 3 min.

James Lees asks passersby on the streets of London what's in their pockets. Lees was in attendance at the screening and admitted that most people had the usual mundane things (he himself had a passport and "rubbish", since someone asked), but he found a surprising number of people who carry amazing trinkets that reveal something of who they are, who they've been, and where they're going. I only wish that the requirements of the project didn't limit him to three minutes, since he said he had a wealth of interviews to choose from, and I felt that some of the ones he had include could have used a little breathing room.

Sparks in the Night
Ben Kadie, Bellevue, WA, 3 min.

14-year-old student Ben Kadie directs and stars in this film-noir spoof, featuring a Sam-Spade-esque detective after notorious criminals such as "The Jaywalker," who is so hard to catch because our law-abiding hero has to take the crosswalks after him. If it weren't for the baby faces of Kadie and his friends as the main characters, I would have mistaken this film for that of a much older and accomplished filmmaker. This short won the Seattle Times' 3-Minute Masterpiece competition this year.

What's Virgin Mean?
United Kingdom, 2 min.

It was fun to see Coupling's Kate Isitt on-screen again, this time as a mother of a young girl who's asking uncomfortable questions. Her range of emotions as she moves from trepidatious caution into losing herself in the question are exquisite.

Control Master
Canada, 7 min.

This film is actually a long-form commercial for Veer stock images; the entire short is a South-Park style cut-paper montage from their affiliate's pulp/vintage stock art, pasted together to make a silent-film superhero/supervillain showdown. The distinctive style holds your attention at first, then the plot picks up a bit and you're following the story, and then, well, the film suffers a bit of a lag during an extended chase scene. It's rare that a short film is ever too long, but I found my attention wandered. At least it ends with a sharp skewering of convention, South-Park-style.

The other five films in the package were over 10 minutes, and not available online that I can find. But in case they ever are, here are my reactions:

Welgunzer: I can't decide on a favorite from this package, but this one would contend for the top. Any film in which a man turns his bathtub into a time machine is guaranteed to be a wild ride, and this doesn't disappoint. It has a wonderful claustrophobic, fog-thick, haggard feel to it. The plot is sharp, the emotions palpable, and the humor gnarled. It is essentially about a man who is heading into the future in order to kill himself, so he can be assured of when the end will come. As the mystery of why unravels, so does Donald.

Boutonniere: In this perfect comic morsel, a teenager getting ready for prom is plagued by an overprotective mother. At first, it's the usual nagging, a kind of universal story. But it ends up in its own particular, peculiar kind of hell. We both wouldn't want to be in her shoes, but have all been in her shoes, in our thirst to be free. It also, hands-down, has the best Joker makeup this side of "The Dark Knight." (Now I'm just daring you to see it, I know.)

The Day My Parents Became Cool: It's hard to say anything bad about this film after hearing practically half of the audience whoop it up for their homegrown short; many of the actors, producers, and the director were in attendance, and hearing how local highschoolers were involved in every stage of production and given a taste for filmmaking is truly inspiring. The film itself is funny and engaging. But this is really of the story of "the day my parents started dressing like us." The parents don't actually become cool. The kids don't start liking them and hanging out with them. The parents and children are still in separate worlds; in fact, they are even further separated because the adults seem to have stopped caring about or even noticing the kids. It's more of a Project Runway challenge: How to invent new a style that will still get under the skin of your suddenly permissive parents — there's no hint of anything like reconciliation or mutual care. Still, it gets points for raucous and outrageous humor.

November: As long as I'm in the slightly downturn frame of mind, I also wanted more from this short. Here's another that has much to recommend it, especially as it was written, shot, and edited in the span of just a week, yet it has a lush and rich science fiction feel. A mythical walled city, where no one every dies, knows only the month of November. Legend has it that the city once only knew summer, but some of them wandered beyond the city and brought back autumn. Our heroine and her grandfather must leave the city and travel through winter in order to bring back spring. The film's main problem can be summed up in the contraband calendar the grandfather possesses with all twelve months, including spring flowers — contradicting what we just heard about the city once knowing only summer. The film is just so heavily allegorical (we must move through death to new life), that it doesn't necessarily feel like human beings as we know them inhabit this world, not emotionally. But I must give kudos to the production designer, because the look and feel of this alternate reality really does draw you in and gets halfway to persuading you.

Immersion: Last, and probably my other contender for favorite, is this slice-of-life film of a young Mexican immigrant in the U.S. whose school has just gone immersion-only in order to help the children learn English. Moises is proficient at math, but the new standardized math exams use word problems that he can't understand. The one thing he was good at was taken away, and he is at a crossroads of giving up and withdrawing or finding a way through. Most of this short package is filled with otherworldly adventures, an although this one is grounded in the real world, you definitely feel how, for Moises, this country is an otherworldly adventure.

1 comment:

  1. Weird — I saw the same movies! And felt the same way about them all! That's so bizarre. And we didn't even cheat.

    Thanks for writing up what I thought so I didn't have to.

    As far as "Immersion" goes, I've been reading a lot about bilingual education and have found that programs in the U.S. schools tend to be either English-only immersion (as in this film) or true bilingual, where half the class is English speakers and half another language (generally Spanish). I think the second option sounds so much more honoring to the students in terms of culture and self-esteem and allowing them to learn from each other as they learn the typical school subjects as well. There are so many benefits that come from being bilingual that it seems a shame to try to mold bilingual children into English monolinguals. Here's a link about the differences between the two programs. My views seem to fit in with the right-hand column.

    I highly recommend that everyone read this poem: "Way With Word," by JHong, who read it at Quest's artSPEAK. As I speak my halting German with Corin, it just made so much sense to me that we all have these rich experiences and feelings and stories that can only be articulated well in our strongest language(s). So if we're forced into a society that doesn't know and doesn't value that language, then we're stuck with being, at worst, mute, and at best, considered of diminished capacity.

All right, I'll stop talking about bilingualism now. It's just on my mind!