October 21, 2009

Flyway Film Festival: Reviews of Selected Shorts

I've really only come to appreciate short films in the last few years, almost entirely because of the theatrical screenings of the Oscar nominees every February. In fact I think I'd rather watch La Maison en Petits Cubes, last year's Oscar winner for Best Animated Short, again than the much-lauded Up (which I nonetheless did like). Anyway, my point is that shorts aren't the amateur and/or unimportant productions I may have once thought they were; many filmmakers even make a career out of short films.

There is an almost overwhelmingly high number of shorts playing at the Flyway Film Festival this weekend, and I've been fortunate to get a peek at several of them. Unfortunately one of them that I was really excited for,
Surprise!, didn't play in my region-limited DVD player, so I can't say anything about it other than that it sounds like a promisingly boffo French comedy: "As an attentive husband, Pierre has prepared a surprise for his wife Brigitte's birthday, but a series of harmless incidents (like a draft, a sun beam reflected off a window) brings the next door neighbor
into his bed just as Brigitte walks through the door." Maybe not high-minded comedy, but if handled the right way these set-ups can be hilarious.

So while I haven't seen Surprise!, here are some words about four shorts that I have seen, in alphabetical order and including video when I've found it available.

Gilles' Lilly (La Lili à Gilles)
David Uloth,  2007
Run Time: 16 min.  |  Canada  
Categories: Narrative Short

You know you're not in for a G-rated story when a little girl drops the F-bomb in the opening monologue of a film. David Uloth's Gilles' Lilly (La Lili à Gilles), which has won several canadian festival awards (including the best short film at the Montreal World Film Festival), is a perfect companion piece to the dark mood of Spike Jonze's recent re-imagining of Where the Wild Things Are. Lilly (Marie-Félixe Allard) and her father, Francois (Jean-Phillipe Pearson), visit her senile and widowed grandfather, Gilles (Pierre Collin), who lives alone on the family estate. He is regularly looked after by Johanne (Sophie Caron) and is generally in good physical health, but Francois wants to take over the land and thinks it best for Gilles to live in an assisted care facility. Lilly is too young to understand her grandfather's dementia; his
strange habits and sayings leading her to think of him as a magical wizard.

Lilly serves as our narrator, describing the "magical" things she sees in the house and drawing the viewer into a childlike state of wonderment along the way. The child actor Allard is absolutely adorable, which makes her salty language and unfiltered monologues shocking and, in a backwards way, even charming. The three adult actors are terrific as well, and I'm surprised to see only a few film credits to each of their names on IMDb. Collin and Pearson are especially affecting as father and son, and their terse discussion and eventual outbursts drive home how much dementia can devastate a family structure.

Aside from the handling of its characters and themese, what really set Gilles' Lilly apart from most short films was, for me, the jaw-droppingly impressive production values. This is a polished and very professional-looking film, with warm, rich, absorbing cinematography, and a perfectly balanced score. Directors these days are increasingly going the cheap route and using handheld cameras and naturalistic, bare-bones set pieces. Uloth (like Jonze) goes the other direction and shows that attention (money in a production budget) focused in the right places can produce an amazingly alive, visually engrossing world.

Yes, this is the kind of short film that looks better than most features - and one that could easily be flushed out into one. Uloth should have submitted this for Oscar consideration (maybe he did), and if he ever makes a feature film I am on board completely. I've been able to track down an Italian-subtitled version of Gilles' Lilly to show here, but this really deserves to be seen on the big screen this weekend.

Gilles' Lilly plays with For My Father (Sof Shavua Be-Tel Aviv) on Sunday, Oct. 25, at 5:00 PM at the Stockholm Opera Hall.


Jeannie Roshar and Gary Anthony Williams, 2008 (Official Website)
Run Time: 18 min.  |  USA
Categories: WI/MN Showcase

When it comes to race in America, there is a fine line between on-the-mark social satire and offensive political correctness. Just ask any stand-up comedian, say like Michael Richards. Just the description alone of I Own You probably raises some people's hackles: "Ronnie, an African-American man, and Betsy, his Caucasian wife, are shocked to learn that in the 1800s, her family owned his in slavery. At first Ronnie brushes it off, but then an axe, a dashiki, Oprah Winfrey, and a cotton ball cause him to look at his wife in a whole new way." The story was inspired by the actual situation in which African-American co-writer Gary Anthony Williams (who also stars as Ronnie) found himself in when he married his Caucasian wife.

So what's the verdict? Well, from where I sit as a product of such a marriage (albeit not an American one), I can say I Own You is really pretty funny, and not surprisingly well-informed. Balance - not to be confused with equality - is essential in applying comedy to hot topics like this, and Williams and Roshar (who stars as Betsy) impressively cover nearly all aspects of interracial relations (white guilt, reparations, African-American co-opting of African culture, marginilization of other races, biracial children, etc.).

I think it's worth mentioning that I Own You is showing at the festival just a few weeks after an interracial couple in Louisiana was
denied a marriage license (and a year after a biracial person was elected president). A screening of I Own You in that state, and elsewhere, could do a great job in both enlightening and entertaining an American public still unsure of how to talk about this subject.

I Own You plays in the Shorts 1 Program on Saturday, Oct. 24, 1:00 PM at the Lake Pepin Art & Design Center.

Courtney Hoskins, 2007
Run time: 6 min.  |  USA  
Categories: Narrative Short

A patient and contemplative mindbender, Snowbird observes a young woman on a Colorado mountain pass, desperately trying to catch a ride from a sympathetic driver. Her methods of flagging cars begin as amusing (funny signs, cartwheels), then turn more desperately hopeless, then fade altogether. Will she be left stranded?

What sounds like an uninteresting story about a random hitchhiker is anything but. On her Vimeo page, Courtney Hoskins explains that Snowbird is about "finding your voice and gaining the courage to move forward in your life." It's not really until the very end that you understand what that means, and then you're left with all kinds of questions. Making a thought-provoking film in under 6 minutes is pretty impressive - check it out.

Snowbird plays with MIA: A Soldier's Homecoming on Sunday, Oct. 25, 5:00 PM at the Lake Pepin Art & Design Center.

Wind Up Dress (World Premiere)
Brett Harding,  2009
Categories: WI/MN Showcase
Run time: 7 min.  |  USA  

I get a kick out of "what if?" scenarios in movies, like from A Simple Plan - what if you found $4 million that nobody was looking for? As unlikely as that is, Wind Up Dress offers an even more unbelievable premise: what if a disabled woman was given the ability to walk by wearing a special dress (identical to a scenario in last year's Quid Pro Quo)?

The reason I like these kinds of films is because there's never a "right" answer, and there's always a cost that needs to be considered by the characters. Whether they will realize it or not is often what separates a comedy from a drama. Wind Up Dress, which is a silent film and is shot in black and white on what appears to be 16mm, is definitely a drama. It's well-paced and the vintage sheen provides a sense of realism that ironically would be missing if color were added. My only knock would be that the climactic finale runs just a bit too long, which is never what you want in a short film. But nonetheless I recommend checking out Wind Up Dress and asking yourself, "What if?".

Wind Up Dress plays with New York Lately on Sunday, Oct. 25, at 3:00 PM at the Stockholm Opera Hall.


  1. Great post! Thanks for the heads-up on these. Some of my favorite shorts are:

    Pencil Face



    Lavatory Lovestory

  2. Thanks, I hope you get to see one of these sometime, especially Gilles' Lilly.

    I capsule reviewed Lavatory after its nomination last year - that one was great.

    Pencil Face is a TRIP. That is disturbing, creepy, and so weird you have to keep watching!

    Didn't watch Gordo just yet but I love the description alone. Thanks for these recs!


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