Language, love and loss among themes of short films at 2015 Vail Film Festival
Shorts are the sonnets of the film world. While the average feature has upwards of 100 minutes running time, shorts tend to get the job done in 20 minutes or less. In just one-tenth of the time, a short must introduce a world, develop characters and convey its concepts all without overwhelming the viewer. Every minute counts; each facial expression, each strain of music, each carefully framed shot drips with meaning.
This year’s Vail Film Festival shorts lineup has a little something for everyone. From sci-fi horror-tinged plots to tender family moments, each film will leave you with a distinct impression and plenty of conversation fodder afterward.
Since there are so many options to choose from, here are a few suggestions of films that will definitely be worth your time.
“Picnic,” 11 minutes
What starts as a young girl’s visit to the country transforms into an incredibly poignant and meaningful journey. The actors’ facial expressions convey so much that you almost don’t need the subtitles (the spoken dialogue is Italian). The soundtrack trades off between ethereal and eerie, adding to the mystery revealed in one deft twist at the end.
“Junked,” 11 minutes
This short documentary explores the world of film as it transforms from reel projection to digital. It takes place during the last days of the George Revival Cinema in Australia, following employees as they prepare the old giant reels of film for various fates of preservation or destruction. The cinematography is handled beautifully, giving the film a tactile sense with close-ups of the old machines, strips of 35mm film and the processes done by hand. It’s definitely a poignant topic, and a relevant one in the midst of the film festival.
“Vocabulario,” 16 minutes
This film takes the simple concept of two people — Werner from Germany and Xiaoyan from China — connecting in a foreign country through a foreign language — Spanish, in this case. Anyone who has struggled through learning a second language can appreciate how such simple communication ends up meaning so much more than the words spoken. This film was easy to disappear into, as the language barrier and other walls of memory and emotion break down between the two main characters.
“B-Flat,” 24 minutes
This tale of regret and attempted redemption lands Amar back in India after being away for 40 years. A phone call has pulled the New York taxi driver away from his life and onto a journey to the bedside of a dying friend. With him, he brings a mysterious, beautifully decorated box. On the way, he meets another man in search of something lost. Struggle, futility and hope all tangle together to create a metaphorical journey for the audience.
“Oh, Lucy!” 22 minutes
Another language-centric film, “Oh, Lucy!” features a middle-aged Japanese woman who takes a chance, stepping away from the mundane routine of her life to enroll in English lessons. While in class, she’s given a blond wig and a new name, Lucy. Lead actress Kaori Momoi plays her role with such heartbreaking fragility that it’s impossible to tear your eyes away. Watching her search for identity pulls the audience along, rooting for her character through the very last scene.
“Dead Hearts,” 17 minutes
A “Royal Tenembaums”-esque modern fairy tale, “Dead Hearts” delights throughout its morbidly sweet storyline. With the line “A whimsical, gothic bedtime story filled with love, loss, taxidermy, kung fu and biker werewolves,” the synopsis can’t help but grab your attention — and it lives up to its promises. Fans of quirky films like “Coraline” and “ParaNorman” will also enjoy the tale of a young mortician searching for love and finding it in the most unconventional way.
“ReConception,” 12 minutes
Light on dialogue, “ReConception” is heavy on rich, colorful images. The film starts with a group of wild young boys tearing through the forest, filled with the energy and exuberance of youth. When they come across a seemingly abandoned trailer, they break upon it like a wave. The boys’ recklessness contrasts poignantly with the frailty and age of a later character. Words are simply not needed to convey this story of youth and age, imagination and memory.
“Effed!” 20 minutes
Post-apocalyptic scenarios are all the rage these days. This film takes a rather comedic and absurdist look at what life is like on the road for two friends pedaling along on a tandem bicycle. Imagine two bros wandering onto an abandoned “Mad Max” set and you’ve got a general idea. Random goofiness leads the audience on a zig-zag trail through a dusty future, with a handful of jokes (and a celebrity cameo) along the way.
“Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution,” 14 minutes
On a more serious note, this short documentary takes a look at the current situation in Syria through the eyes of a female English teacher-turned-journalist and a rebel commander. Footage of the deserted, rubble-strewn streets emphasizes the interviews of how life has changed for these individuals, and how they are fighting for a cause they believe in, and to regain the promise of the country they love.
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