Monday, November 30, 2015

Great Short Films from the Austin Film Festival

There were a lot of cool shorts at the recent Austin Film Festival. I recently blogged about Life On Juniper.  Here’s a brief reflection on three others.

My favorite short in the whole festival was Red Rover by Australian, Brooke Goldfinch.  You can see the trailer here:

Why did I love this film? Not just because it was beautifully crafted, but it touched me emotionally.  It touched me because it has a core of yearning for life, a yearning which isn’t realized within the film but which resonates in the life of the teenage couple the film is centered on.  It’s a film about an apocalypse without a single frame of violence.  It’s the heart of the apocalypse: the great loss of our future.


Several families have gathered for a last supper. We gather that a large meteor is expected to strike the Earth the next day and these families have decided to have a last meal that is poisoned to spare themselves the agony of the disaster. But the daughter of one family and her boyfriend, the son of another family, don’t accept this.  They hide the food and when everyone has fallen silent, they flee in search of shelter.  But as they search a virtually empty world for this shelter, they forget their trouble and begin to image the world that might be theirs, a world of love and springtimes.  But the world shakes and all becomes a blinding white.

Kendall McCrory’s film Ruby Woo was another film I loved at the Festival.   It’s a gritty world where an eleven-year-old sister wants to enter her older sister’s sad world without realizing what she might be getting into.  In fact, the older sister is working as a prostitute, assisted by the boyfriend. The boyfriend and younger sister are waiting outside the town’s primary motel when another call comes in and the younger sister impulsively answers it. With the boyfriend’s encouragement, she goes to the caller’s room. But the older sister emerges from her client, screams at the boyfriend and rescues the younger sister.

The triangle of the sisters and the older sister’s manipulative boyfriend was artfully drawn. This film has real heart in its misery. The film was the filmmaker’s MFA thesis film at Florida State University.

More from:

At every festival I attend, I learn more about myself than anything else. The films that are primarily cute jokes, or clever genre parodies, or fascination resolutions of ridiculous situations do not hold my interest.  I can appreciate them, mostly intellectually, but the films, like these two, that show me a journey of the heart are the ones that matter to me. This, of course, is exactly what I hope to do in my own work.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Seen at the Austin Film Festival: Life on Juniper

One of the best short films I saw at the Austin Film Festival was a Canadian film titled, "Life on Juniper."

Here's one of images they use to promote the film.

As the image suggests, there is a little green man in the film. But I want to tell you why this is an amazing human film, despite the little green man.

But first a warning.  This is going to be a spoiler.  If you're about to see the film somewhere, don't read any further.

The film focuses on an older couple.  They have lived for years on a piece of property (on Juniper Lane) that might be a bit out in the country; big enough to have a large shed with years of junk stashed in it.  One night the husband wakes up and follows a sound, some ligh,t and sees that the back door is open and someone is - maybe - just shutting the door to the shed.

The next day, his wife nags him to clean out the shed and he pretends to do that in order to investigate.  Amid snatches of background TV news referencing various news that might be related to UFOs, etc., he goes into the shed.  And, he discovers the little green man.  Not exactly ET, but apparently friendly.  They have some limited interaction in which the little green man indicates that he comes from a galaxy far, far away.

The husband sees a man in a suit knocking a their door.  He sees the man looking around the property and taking pictures.  He attempts to hide the little green man from prying eyes.

At this point, I am sort of enjoying the ride but I'm about to think, jeez, another lame low-budget sci-fi flick.  Then everything changes.

The husband comes in and the wife is asking once again about cleaning out the shed so they can move.  The husband admits to being confused about the move -- there are boxes stacked here and there in the living room. The wife reminds him that they are selling the house and moving into assisted living since she can't manage it all by herself.

Suddenly the story turns inside out. It's a story about dementia.  It's a story about how dementia looks from inside the husband's experience.  The man with the camera was a real estate agent.  I was amazed.

I've done two films in which dementia was portrayed.  But I found the experience in Life On Juniper to be a brillant way to treat the problem; creative, imaginative, fun before being sad. 

I applaud filmmaker Mark Ratlazz.