SXSW ’11: Spotlight on Shorts – Midnight Shorts and Animated Shorts

With attention at film festivals is frequently showered on spotlight premieres, star-studded panels and beer-drenched parties, it’s often easy to forget the short film line-ups programmed throughout the festival.

At most film festivals, these carefully selected line-ups showcase short films from across the globe — featuring emerging talent who have something just as important to say as their feature-length counterparts but with a fraction of the time to say it. South by Southwest is no exception. This year the festival will feature eight different categories of short films — ranging from music videos to documentaries to films made by high school students to the always-popular selection of midnight shorts.

While its easy to fill your schedule with the red carpet premieres and the much-buzzed about indie films that have already made their mark at other film festivals, this year don’t ignore South by Southwest’s selection of short films.

Here are a few selections from this year’s line-up:

MIDNIGHT SHORTS

Bunny Boy

Directed by Brandon LaGanke, this unassuming micro-short packs a mean, unexpected punch. Teymur Guliyev stars as a young boy who, while walking home from school, comes across a seemingly dead person propped up against a fence and dressed in what appears to be a homemade rabbit costume. The boy, intrigued by his new friend, attempts a wordless exchange with the motionless bunny man. Because this is a Midnight Short, you can be guaranteed something fucked up happens. LaGanke, who is a New York filmmaker, gives his short a nice, subdued atmosphere — reminiscent of something that could have come from the minds of the Coen Brothers or Tomas Alfredson. A shocking wit that will slap audiences over the head helps to bring the short home — making it a very memorable addition to the festival’s line-up.

Hello Caller

In Hello Caller, Tara Karisan (ER) stars as a suicidal woman who decides to call a help line. Almost immediately, there is a misunderstanding with the phone operator who answers her call (played by Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Tom Lenk) — leading to an increasingly funny series of exchanges between the two character actors. Lenk, who also wrote the script, and director Andrew Putschoegl manage to fill the admittedly brief film with an impressive amount of humor.  The amount of laughs packed into the short film would make even a rice engraver sit up and take notice. By maintaining a straight-faced and somber tone as long as humanely possible — despite the witty banter being tossed around by the actors— the film manages to give the its final joke a great, well-paced build up. The short film is highly recommended and should play gangbusters in front of a packed audience.

Canary Suicides

Directors Natalia Provatas and Valerian Zamel beautifully bring to life the artwork of Catherine Coan in Canary Suicides, a short but extremely well executed short. Coat’s art features miniature dioramas highlighting the lonely deaths of a handful of birds. The short’s duel directors breathe life into the dioramas — making each scene a fully realized snippet from some private tragedy. There’s a lot of detail jam-packed into this short — luckily for audiences, the directors have a sharp eye for capturing the detail without sacrificing the concept’s emotional richness.

Christeene, “Bustin’ Brown”

In this music video for Austin based drag queen Christeene, a white trash, Vaseline-soaked man rolls around in a giant colon — shoving his face into the asses of backup dancers while he raps about the joys of anal sex. The video would probably be a nightmare for the god-fearing, hay-chomping white bread denizens of Mid-America but it could also be one of the funniest things you’ve seen in a long time. Like the sex-drenched love child of Lady Gaga and a Gasper Noe movie, Christeene’s music video is an absolute trip. The lyrics often indecipherable under a heavy beat and the performer’s thick accent, you may not always understand exactly what’s going on as Christeene overwhelms you with a powerful presence that, I’m sure, smells of dead cats and used condoms, but you’ll be glad you had the experience to see whatever the hell you just saw on the big screen.

Love Analysis

Lucas Mireles’ very brief short knows how to tell a joke — and tell it well. Shot on a RED HD camera, the short looks beautiful — but that’s just window dressing to a funny extended gag about two friends trying to make a love connection. A nice set-up, steady pace and funny payoff means no second of Mireles’ minute-long short is wasted.

LGFUAD

Kelsey Stark’s experimental animated short LGFUAD (short for Let’s Get Fucked Up and Die) is, on the surface, about a teen girl talking about some hazy memories about what it’s like to be a ghost. Really, though, the short is a pretty raw, unclassifiable expression of an emerging artist. It’s obvious that Stark threw a lot of herself into the short — letting the film’s narrater wade through some of the artist’s pent-up angst. An examination of suburban youth, the short mixes a variety of animation styles — primarily focusing on an unwieldy hypnotic medium that looks like an organic crayon drawing. Stark’s short does not have much of a narrative — but it doesn’t need one. The joy of the piece is the artistic exploration that the director is undertaking in front of an audience.

The Laying on of Hands

Probably one of the strangest things you’re likely to see at the SXSW festival this year, director Nick Twemlow’s short documentary is about a son caught between the worlds of death and healing. From learning the death touch — a power that can drain the life of any who experience it, the filmmaker chooses to study in the world of faith healers in an attempt to grow closer to his mother. Twemlow’s short film is composed of found footage and home movies — linked together by a narrator’s slowly unwrapped tale. The short comes close to dipping its toe into the pool of pretentiousness, but Twemlow’s novel approach and riveting story help make this short film something worth catching at the festival. There’s a lot going on in Twemlow’s film and it will take multiple viewings in order to process everything the filmmaker sets out to do.

Good Morning, Beautiful

There is a lot to love about Todd Cobery’s short film, Good Morning, Beautiful. From the film’s stylistic choices — both visually and in its editing — to a tensely-paced storyline featuring a man (David Tufford) dealing with the death of his newborn daughter and the grief that accompanies it, the film easily manages to be a stand-out selection in SXSW’s Midnight Shorts line-up. After the death of his daughter, Dave finds his life slowly turning into a David Cronenberg film — his waking life is punctured by the presence of hard-to-distinguish hallucinations. From odd characters he encounters on the street to a rapidly spreading rash that leaves his arm looking like it belongs to a leper, Dave’s reality is blurring with his dream state. He is having trouble determining what is real and what is in his head — leading to some great, visually-arresting scenes that offer a peak at the massive talent within the short’s director. At nineteen minutes, Cobery’s film has the benefit of having room to breathe — letting the film’s quirky nature slowly play out instead of feeling rushed. Cobery gives his movie a great visual style that sets it apart from the rest of the film’s playing in the Midnight Shorts line-up. With Good Morning, Beautiful, it has become apparent that Todd Cobery is a filmmaker to keep an eye out for. This is officially the opening shot to a promising career.

Waffle

Short and to the point, Rafael De Leon Jr.’s short horror film Waffle has a palpable tone and energy to it that’ll hit the right spot for genre fans. About a girl who finds herself on the wrong end of the vengeance stick of one of her classmates, a disfigured science wiz with a slightly unstable mother, Waffle doesn’t bother too much with the details — preferring to quickly establish an atmosphere for the short rather than filling audiences in on all the specifics for the story. De Leon’s short has some great make-up effects but — more importantly — the director knows how to build suspense in the reveal. Waffle is a brief flirtation with horror but its one that’s worth watching.

ATTACK

Writer/director Adam White plays loving tribute to fifties science fiction films in his darkly funny film ATTACK. When Harold learns he has a tumor nestled in his brain, emergency surgery is performed to wipe out the biological threat. Unfortunately for Harold, his brain’s tumor is not going to take the fight laying down. ATTACK visualizes the battle between medicine and tumor as a scene right out of War of the Worlds — with the surgeons’ laser wrecking destruction on the small farming community that personifies the tumor and vaporizing any citizen of tumorville that crosses paths with the healing beam. With a sly sense of humor and a great knowledge of genre motifs, White nicely balances the world of Harold with the miniature world that exists inside of his head. This short is highly recommended.

The Midnight Shorts line-up premieres Friday, March 11 at 11:30 PM at the Alamo Drafthouse — Ritz. It’ll screen again Sunday, March 13 at 11:15 PM at the Alamo Drafthouse — Lamar and Saturday, March 19 at 11:30 PM at the Alamo Ritz.

ANIMATED SHORTS

The Beaufort Diaries

Adapted from T Cooper’s graphic novel, The Beaufort Diaries is a mixed media animated short film directed by Alex Petrowsky. Narrated by David Duchovny, the short film is told from the perspective of a displaced polar bear who finds himself experiencing a class rise to fame in Hollywood before the inevitable crash and burn. Cooper’s sharp wit and Duchovny’s deadpan delivery are a perfect match — giving a poetic urgency to the prose. The real star of the short, though, is Petrosky’s animation. A mixture of quasi-stop motion and hand drawn animation, the short uses a full range of techniques to bring the story to life. Rear and front projection and a bit of live action just add to the personality of the film. The combined effort is an interesting technique that gives the short a fluid look despite an almost minimalist approach to the animation. The Beaufort Diaries is a great example of story and art complimenting each other perfectly.

Denmark

It’s only fitting that Denmark, a music video for the Portland Cello Project’s piece by the same name, would also feature a medium dependent on strings. Daniel Fickle’s beautiful film features Pily, a crustacean marionette, who is attempting to build a rocket so he can escape his rapidly polluted home. Fickle’s short uses no dialogue to tell the story — relying solely on the music and the animator’s deft touch to bring personality to the underwater dweller. Beautiful sets only add to the film’s amazing aesthetics. This isn’t the “wink wink nudge nudge” mocking of marionettes as seen in Team America: World Police — Fickle’s use of the medium simply looks amazing and shows just what amazing work can be done with the medium.

Dinosaur Ballet

Twenty-year-old Ross Butter animates this very brief (the running time is just under a minute long) short film that features charming hand-animated scenes of heavily stylized dinosaurs performing ballet. In the short time the film runs, Butter shows a great depth of imagination and humor — making me eager to see what other projects come from this young director.

The Eagleman Stag

Mikey Please’s monochromatic stop-motion film is not only a great narrative — it’s a stunning example of animation. The film, about a man’s obsession with slowing what he believes is the quickening of time’s pace, plays around with its narrative structure using both varying chronological paths and a fluid transition between the film’s 115 different sets. Peter, the film’s hero voiced by actor David Cann, focuses his interest in time onto the discovery of a beetle that he names the Eagleman Stag. His research provides an interesting breakthrough into his obsession — one that has some rather unusual effects on his life. Please’s stylish animation perfectly compliment’s the film’s engrossing story. As an interesting side note, Please built many of the film’s set from white material found in the back of a cushion. Perhaps its the strange, unknown material that provides the key to what makes Please’s short so memorable. Nah, it’s probably just the fact Please is a top-notch creator.

Paths of Hate

I’d seriously give up one of my toes to see a full-length animated film from director Damian Nenow after watching the Polish animator’s short film Paths of Hate. The action-packed story of two fighter pilots engaged in a dogfight — determined to risk everything to destroy the other, Paths of Hate features amazingly detailed and kinetic animation that is reminiscent of comic book illustration. In the short film, Nenow shows he has a very distinct and interesting visual style — combining what looks like hand-drawn illustrations with a dash of computer-animated support. A rocking soundtrack by Jaroslaw Wojcik is just icing on the cake — Paths of Hate is a must see at SXSW.

Teddy Goldblatt

Director Rob Munday channels ’70s children’s television and Monty Python-era Terry Gilliam in his post-apocalpyic short about a lemon with legs, a halved cat and a flying onion traversing an empty world. With Lee Montague’s warm, PBS-like narration accompanying Munday’s limited animation which mixes cut-outs, clip art and stock footage, Teddy Goldblatt manages to be both nostalgic and off-putting in its child-like weirdness. Munday gives the short a heaping amount of sly humor and good-natured quirkiness. The film may be bizarre — but it’s a good kind of bizarre.

The Animated Shorts line-up premieres Saturday, March 13 at 1:30 PM at the Alamo Drafthouse — Lamar. It’ll screen again Tuesday, March 15 at 4:15 PM and Wednesday, March 16 at 1:30 PM — both times at the Alamo Drafthouse — Lamar.

Guard Dog Global Jam

In the spirit of Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated or Star Wars Uncut, crowdsourced projects where fans paid tribute to an original film one short scene at a time, comes Guard Dog Global Jam. Animator Bill Plympton invited 75 artists from across the world to reanimate his Oscar-nominated short film Guard Dog. The result is pretty damn amazing. Cobbled together from a variety of styles — ranging from hand-drawn to computer animated to stop-motion, Guard Dog Global Jam follows the original film’s story about a dog who’s over eager to protect his owner form all manners of imagined threats. The Frankenstein-esque nature of the project adds in a whole new level to the story — constantly surprising audiences with a new visual look and tone to the film. While it might help to have seen the original film to best enjoy this new version, Guard Dog Global Jam will probably still be amazing and hilarious even if you’re watching the story unfold for the first time.

Guard Dog Global Jam will not be included with the rest of the animated shorts in the block programming. Instead, the film will accompany the Spotlight Premiere film PressPausePlay. It premieres Friday, March 11 at 9:30 PM at the Vimeo Theater before having additional screenings Saturday, March 12 at 4 PM at the Arbor theater; Wednesday, March 16 at 12:30 PM at the Alamo Drafthouse — Lamar and Saturday, March 19 at 4:30 PM at the Vimeo Theater.


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