Perhaps the only thing better than going to a lot of great short films is to get a night of short cinema's crème de la crème -- wonderfully-shot movies on a much smaller scale. The gala for the Worldwide Short Film Festival was held last week and it featured a great group of award-winners (everything from Oscars to Golden Bears) that covered animation, live action, happiness and bittersweet sadness. They're projects that throw their middle finger up to the notion that acclaimed filmmaking must be serious, and show the many different embodiments of comedy and dramedy. Obviously, a long review could rival the length of these shorts, so here's just a bit to whet your appetites.
Best Irish Short Special Mention, Cork Film Festival
Put together by John Callaghan, Imagine This is a darkly humorous mash-up that pairs George W. Bush with John Lennon -- one that you might have seen across the net in the last year. (The link above will take you to its YouTube page.) It's impressive to see Bush's words collected in a way that makes it seem like he's singing Lennon's Imagine, but what really works about this mash-up short is its ability to show how the meaning of words can change depending on who says them. "Imagine there's no countries; it isn't hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too" takes on a whole different light under the voice of Dubya, rather than Lennon. a href="http://imdb.com/title/tt0878143/">Contact
Golden Bear, Berlin Film Festival
This non-linear short might not make sense in the time-line of life, but regardless, it's a great and funny intermingling of three different people who come together by chance. Hanro Smitsman details the afternoon of a young boy who struggles with an acidic home life and bully's taunting at school. He then escapes his chaotic house and troubled mother, unleashing his furrowed brow and frustration on the world-at-large, and ultimately creating an interesting and inter-connected series of events between himself, his mother and a down-on-his-luck stranger.
Best Comedy, Aspen Shortsfest, Best Short Film, Filmfest Dresden, Prix Canal+, Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival
We all talk about what we, as adults, can learn from kids and how they can learn from us, and Andera Jublin's The Substitute is a really great, fun and unique example of just that. We're taken into the lives of some school kids who are experiencing the eternal secondary school problems -- self-esteem, social circles and that pesky pressure of grades. All of a sudden, a substitute teacher bounds into the classroom and turns things on its ear. The man doesn't follow any of the rules -- he makes fun of the children and acts like a child himself. However, in doing so, he actually gets somewhere with them, and ultimately, after the big twist, with himself. For a simple and quirky premise, it packs a lot of punch -- that can make you think just as much as it makes you laugh.
Dreams and Desires -- Family Ties
Audience Prize & Fipresci Award, Annecy International Animation Festival, Fipresci Award, Grand Prix, Zagres Animation Festival
With a rush of scribbled pencil marks and subdued color, Joanna Quinn's Dreams and Desires -- Family Ties shows a woman named Beryl's attempts to keep a video diary at her friend's wedding. It's a strange, quirky and over-the-top story that has everything from camera-strapped dogs and bare-arsed nuptials. It's goofy and rather crass, yet still wistful and whimsical. While the story was a bit much for my tastes, it didn't matter much, because it's the sort of short that has a story that fuels the visuals, rather than visuals to fuel the story.
Make a Wish
Nest Short Film, Dubai International Film Festival, Prix de la Press & Special Jury Mention, Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival
Cherien Dabis' short film is about a young Palestinian girl's insistent desire and commitment to buy a specific birthday cake from the local bakery -- at any cost. It does a great job of expressing the flawed yet noble rationale of a kid, and how there is more than meets the eye to her motivation. Being barely short the money for the cake, she schemes throughout the day and into the night to make her plan a reality. When she vows to not return home until she's found a cake, regardless of her mother's worry, you wonder why she's so adamant. When you find out why, you're right there with her, with a pang in your heart.
The Danish Poet
Best Animated Short, Academy Awards, Best Animated Short, Genie Awards, Best Animated Short, Worldwide Short Film Festival
And here is this year's Oscar-winning short by Torill Kove. The Danish Poet is a story narrated by two-time Oscar nominee Liv Ullman, which portrays the yearning life of a poet named Kasper Jørgensen. Suffering from a lack of inspiration, he vows to visit a writer he respects, who lives in Norway. His journey takes him down an unexpected and challenging path of love and loss -- one that questions fate and how important the smallest accident or pitfall can be in the larger path of life. It's a cute, modern fairytale that has brains behind its mirth -- the sort that both kids and adults can both enjoy.
Audience Award, Aspen Shortsfest, Audience Prize, Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival
This short film is a great example of taking a decent, small idea and turning it into an entertaining and successful whole. Sometimes, you watch a short film and you see a noble thought, but nothing about its execution lives up to its possibility. However, with Tanghi, there are clever, surprising and expected aspects that lead to an engaging experience. Playing on notions of desire and loneliness, the short is about a man who has sparked a romantic internet relationship with a tango dancer. However, he doesn't know how to dance, so he doggedly hounds a tangoing coworker to teach him moves before the two are to meet in person. Their dancing forays are reminiscent of Kevin Bacon teaching Chris Penn to dance in Footloose, where dancing becomes a part of every moment. However, that's only the beginning of the story as the fateful night takes a surprising turn that might not be so surprising after all.