The centerpiece of Express Stops Only, a short film program playing at Tribeca, is Raving, from first-time writer/director Julia Stiles. Starring Zooey Deschanel and Bill Irwin, the film centers around two possibly dangerous Manhattan misfits who try to figure each other out and end up engaging in an uneasy friendship, of sorts. Zooey is a street scammer, hustling people for drinking money with a song and dance about how she got hooked up with bad people and was left behind all alone, in the big bad city. Irwin's character is a straight-laced man who shows up at an office every morning, swipes a card at a security station and acts outraged when it doesn't work. We never learn whether he worked there or if he's just a complete lunatic who likes to show up at office buildings and cause a scene. Stiles shows a sure hand for offbeat comedy her first time around, keeping us engaged in the interplay between the two weirdos without ever tipping her hand as to where this thing is going. There's a nice musical finale.
Say Can You See is a creepy animation short that imagines 9/11 and its aftermath through the eyes of the those high-powered binocular stations on the observation deck of the Empire State Building. With the eye-holes already in place, it's an easy transition to anthropomorphize them as sad, contemplative watchmen who have a clear line of sight to see what's going on downtown but can do nothing about it. This isn't a talky short or something aimed at children, but a music-laden art piece that transitions from rain and sadness to a milieu of rebirth as birds and sunshine begin to return to the area. I wonder if the timing is off, however -- this seems like exactly the kind of thing that could have played three or four years ago at Tribeca and been very powerful, but the intervening years drain it of some of its power to inspire emotions through such a simple presentation. Still, its an intriguing little piece that puts one in mind of why the Tribeca film festival was created in the first place.