SHORTS PROGRAM IV: Character Stickiness in Six Short Films

The thing about short films is they are super concentrated bolts of thought. (You thought I was gonna say that the thing about shorts is they’re short. Heh. That too.) This gathering of projects in SHORTS PROGRAM IV that plays Saturday, October 22, 3:15p.m. at the Screen is no different.

The hardest part for me is to not tell you too much, because these are all really worth your while to sit through.

On the surface, the six films appear to have absolutely nothing in common. But as a person with TME (Too Much Education), I overly thought it and discovered they actually DO have a theme: in every film, the characters are dealing with being stuck. Their stickiness manifests as fear and hatred—of self, of others, of situations—and the characters must come to peace or make a change (or none of the above).

We swing on a pendulum of intensity in this group. Starting with MADDOGGIN’ (24 min.) a fictional, gritty documentary-style peek into Homies slingin’ in East-LA, it’s the Latin version of BOYS IN THE HOOD. And like BOYS, the two main characters are stuck in a cultural hole they were born into, and no matter what they believe for themselves it is a vicious pit to crawl out of. It’s an example of how difficult it is to rise above a stereotype when it is being reinforced around you. Poignant and well played with an all-too real life ending, MADDOGGIN’ shows us that as far as we’ve come in the ‘hood, we’ve been standing still.

Second is VIA GORI (13 min.), another docu-feel piece where we take a tremendously stressful minibus ride with a Russian woman and her daughter through the active war zone that was Georgia in 2008. Subtitles tell us the hatred felt by the Georgian passengers toward the Russians, whose bombs explode all too near the bus. It’s impossible to resolve any humanity in a situation like this. Yet it comes, and when it does, it is both a cooling and crashing wave as all of the people head toward an uncertain future.

TWO (9 min.) was my favorite of this set for it’s stark simplicity and huge emotional wallop. It’s devastating to discover yourself caught between hate and love and its manifestations called up from the past: your past, your parents’ past. You will find yourself haunted by, “She kissed me. And I wiped my cheek.” Well executed all the way around.

The fun of SOMETHING WRONG’S WITH PETER (6 min.) will be immediately obvious: it’s a musical. Clearly a nod to fans of DR. HORRIBLE’S SING-ALONG-BLOG, Peter suffers from a monster within. His disdain for the beast makes him want to end its existence. Instead, he sings (and cleans) his way toward personal salvation—and a date.

In TERREBONNE (15 min.) the “ghost bird” (Ivory Billed Woodpecker) is said to haunt the local swamps. An 11-year old boy insists he’s seen one. What at first appears to be a story about finding a rare species is ultimately a character contemplation with a gentle yet persistent conservation message. Brother and sister are stuck in a small town that’s sinking, and with the differences in age and interests, it’s easy to see why they are rivals. As you paddle along with them, and an ornithologist who really is interested in the bird, the sibs find a new way of being with each other.

And finally, STRANGE THING ABOUT THE JOHNSONS spins the abused child story on its head. This is super normalcy swirled with David Lynch creepiness. It’s the sum total of feeling stuck, of the entire prism of hatred and fear. It’s a staggering play of ill ease with such compelling film making that you will be glued to it. I suspect you won’t go away feeling good about this one, but it won’t leave you anytime soon either.

What we do with the circumstances we are given, that we create for ourselves, and that spin around us, are powerful themes explored in these films.

SHORTS PROGRAM IV plays at the Santa Fe Film Festival, 2011, on October 22 at 3:15p.m. at The Screen. Click here for more info.