It took me a few days to work my way through The Ultimate Lesbian Short Film Festival DVD after I received a review copy. I don't like watching a number of short films one after another; I prefer to view one or two at a time, then taking a break to let them soak in and reflect on what I saw. Too many films at once can make your brain glaze over, whether they are shorts or features; ask anyone who's ever submerged themselves full-force into a film festival.
"Ultimate" seems rather strong to describe the content of the DVD. I wasn't sure exactly what to expect from an ultimate DVD of lesbian films. Apart from a screening at aGLIFF last year, my exposure to lesbian-themed short films has been fairly limited, but I enjoyed the shorts on this DVD. The Ultimate Lesbian Short Film Festival runs the gamut from comedy to drama to fantasy, with only one film explicitly addressing sex.
I liked the fact that nearly all the films treated lesbians and women in general with dignity and respect. Blow presents a funny and touching look at Australian teenage girls who don't seem to much like the boys, but who are quite realistic young women. Tina Paulina: Living on Hope Street is a short documentary about a one-eyed gay homeless woman whom the filmmaker happens to meet on a street corner. Many filmmakers might consider the woman a prime subject for slyly mocking comedy, but Michelle Boyaner and Barbara Green portray her as a multi-dimensional human being ... in under 10 minutes, yet. Dani & Alice provides a glimpse into the end of an abusive relationship, but offers some understanding of both parties involved. I love comedies, so Blow—named for the main character's chronic sneezing fits, not anything naughtier—was one of my favorite films on the DVD. Elsa Carnaby, as the girl who feels allergic to life, was wonderful and believable. It's amazing to me what you can do in a seven-minute film.
I also was fond of Half Laughing, for entirely different reasons. This short focused on a lesbian with a new buzzcut hairdo who is called to her family's house for a funeral. Her mom tries to cover up the buzzcut with a wig, embarrassed about her daughter's lesbian lifestyle. I know people who would act like the mom in this film, and had nothing but sympathy for the main character.
The content throughout the shorts seemed surprisingly tame, considering the DVD box advertised short films "full of sex"; in reality, most of the films did not show physical intimacy beyond a little smooching. Only one short deals directly with sex, Everything Good, in which a conventionally plain woman in an Amsterdam hotel decides to order in a hooker. Still, despite references to dental dams and harnesses, no immodest nudity or graphic sex is shown.
A few well-known actresses appear in some of the shorts. Moira Kelly stars in A Woman Reported, which played at Sundance in 2004. The five-minute film is a surreal, intense recounting of a lesbian attacked by two men. The DVD box boasted that Guinevere Turner co-stars in Dani & Alice, but in reality she appears fleetingly as a sexy bartender.
I found Saint Henry, a tale of a teenage girl searching for her father, to be long (nearly 20 minutes) and unengaging, although Ashleigh Ann Wood was excellent in the lead role. I was also unimpressed with Frozen Smile, the film about three generations of women gathering at a male relative's grave. The characters were shallow and not particularly interesting. The Black Plum was a pretty little fantasy with a charming tomboy in the lead, but the story was too ambiguous for my liking. Transit, only four minutes long, was more about a moment than a story, and I wished it were a bit longer and more detailed.
What struck me about the films in The Ultimate Lesbian Short Film Festival was the overall portrayal of women, period, whatever their sexual orientation. You will find no one-dimensional Supportive Wives or Shrewish Girlfriends on this DVD. I felt like I was watching a wonderful gallery of realistic human beings, of women who were strong or weak, gorgeous or flabby, abusive or neglected ... but real, live women. It was a delight to see such a variety of women, as well as the number of female filmmakers involved.
The DVD itself has a few minor flaws. The sound levels aren't consistent from one film to another and I had to adjust my volume control. Also, the aspect ratio isn't consistent—some shorts are full-frame, others widescreen—so I had to recheck and adjust my TV screen ratio with every film. My copy of the DVD was set permanently with closed captioning on, but I suspect that was one of those tricks that distributors play with screeners, and not a problem for DVDs you would rent or buy. (Note to distributors: the closed-captioning is distracting and not conducive to positive reviews. Cut it out.)
The Ultimate Lesbian Short Film Festival is a fine DVD to rent or buy if you are weary of female stereotypes in film and want to be refreshed by humorous and poignant portrayals of multi-dimensional women. I like the idea of owning DVDs of short films, perhaps to show before features during movie night with friends or to enjoy when I don't have time to watch a full-length movie. This would be a great DVD to have around the house for such purposes. I hope that by "ultimate", Wolfe Video does not intend this as its only DVD of lesbian-themed short films; I would enjoy seeing similar collections of shorts released every year or two.