What Did I Just Watch? – Sundance Live Shorts 2014

If you’re a tourist just off a cruise ship, Key West is a bustling little island with minimal parking and a crowded local tavernage that swells with musical energy and swelters with humidity.  If you’re a resident, however, the scene isn’t that much different, except that you recognize how small and quaint a community it tends to be.

Friends and Neighbors

The wild, free roaming chickens are protected by the city.

Indeed, Key West rivals Portland note for note in the weirdness stakes, and each quirk and twitch only adds to its charm.  As such, colorful local events, such as this week’s Key West Film Festival, are received with genuine enthusiasm by the native Conchs, who have come out en masse to celebrate the art of film in all three of the islands local, independent cinemas.

The Sundance Live Shorts

The presentation of seven captivating short films was hosted by Anson Mount, who has stolen all of the handsome in the Republic and refuses to return it.

All of the Handsome.

Please, sir, think of the spinsters.

The production as a whole played a wide scale on the audiences emotions, offering short tales that waxed between the patently hilarious and the truly disturbing.  All of them drawn from real or realistic scenarios, it was an enlightening experience to see such complex stories told in such a compact frame of time.

With apologies, the following is mildly out-of-order, as there was a discrepancy in the program.  Attempts have been made to restore the authentic play list.

Afronauts

Written and directed by Frances Bodomo. USA, 12 minutes.

1969: A group of Zambian exiles form a space program in an attempt to beat the Americans to the moon.  A stirring piece, featuring a young albino woman who has been honored with the task of serving as Zambia’s first “astronaut.”  I find the choice to shoot this piece in black and white understandable but problematic.  It honors the timeliness of the piece, but masks the social elements afoot.  Nonetheless, the piece is captivating, simultaneously minimal and complex.

The Cut (La Coupe)

Short Film Jury Award: International Fiction

Written and directed by Geneviève Dulude-Decelles. Canada, 15 minutes.  

Another complex piece, this one winds from light-hearted, boisterous banter between a father and daughter, to a place of tense, low-voiced conflict, then glides sympathetically past tender grief to acceptance and affirmation.  I haven’t been this touched in this short a time since the first 11 minutes of Up.

Dawn

dawn

Directed by Rose McGowan, Written by M.A. Fortin, Joshua John Miller. USA, 17 minutes.

What begins with all the cheerful flavor of a John Waters movie ends with the kind of blood chilling horror that gets Stephen King aroused.  Beautifully produced and utterly shocking.

I Think This Is the Closest to How the Footage Looked

the closest to howShort Film Jury Award: Non-fiction

Directed by Yuval Hameiri, Co-Director: Michal Vaknin. Israel, 9 minutes.

Though the short begins with imagery that seems to honor the sweet minimalism of Wes Anderson, the story slowly reveals itself as a reflection of grief and shock, and an attempt, however desperate, to recapture something – and someone – incredibly dear to the narrator.

Love. Love. Love.

love-love-love

Short Film Special Jury Award: Non-fiction

Directed by Sandhya Daisy Sundaram. Russia, 12 minutes.

The short feels a little like a documentary.  It illustrates, through voiceover interviews overlaying scenes of daily life, the ages of man.  In doing so, it illustrates cultural and personal perceptions of love as an emotion, and a state of being.

MeTube: August Sings Carmen “Habanera”

MeTube

Written and directed by Daniel Moshel. Austria, 5 minutes.

This adorable short from Austria is more like a music video, and a beautifully produced one at that.  Set to Bizet’s “Habanera” from Carmen, the piece hilariously satirizes the phenomenon of flagrant self promotion that has accompanied the rise of YouTube.

Verbatim

verbatim

Directed by Brett Weiner, Screenwriter: Court Document. USA, 7 minutes.

Verbatim is simultaneously a modern sendup of classic vaudeville routines and rhythms, and a scathing commentary on the inefficiencies of the legal process.  Taken verbatim from the transcript of a sworn deposition, the audience feels sympathy and understanding for the sworn witness even as frustration for the situation mounts to an hilarious degree.

I’m a Mitzvah

mitzvah

Directed by Ben Berman, Written by Ben Berman, Josh Cohen. USA, 19 minutes.

Ben Schwartz impressed me with a very well rounded performance in this funny and touching short that feels at home sharing the themes of Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen. Managing grief in a strange country and a modern era, the protagonist strives to do right by friends and family through a series of increasingly frustrating tasks.  The short serves as the epitome of the concept, “Humor comes from pain.”

The Key West Film Festival runs through Sunday, November 16th.  Information on show times and awards is available at kwfilmfest.com.  Be sure to follow the event on Twitter and Facebook.

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