A shorts visit
Manhattan Film Fest comes to Durango

A scene from "Madagascar."

by Willie Krischke

The Manhattan Short Film Festival played Durango for the third year last weekend. The new outdoor venue, next to the Crossroads Building downtown, was more in keeping with the spirit of the festival, which was started 12 years ago by New Yorker Nicolas Mason and originally projected on the side of a delivery truck. Bean bag chairs, hot chocolate and popcorn were provided at the local screenings, and the proceeds went to the Adult Education Center.

The Manhattan Short Film Festival is a unique and innovative film festival; the playlist consists of 10 short films (15 minutes or less) selected from a pool of more than 440 entries. The finalists are from 10 different countries around the world, and over the course of a week, these 10 films screened in more than 200 cities worldwide. Viewers (instead of special juries or celebrities) vote to pick the festival winner. Durango and Denver are the festival’s only stops in Colorado.

Here’s a look at my ballot, ranked from worst to first.

10. “12 Years” (Germany) “Hey, you know what would make a great short film? Let’s dramatize the 1992 breakup of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow … but here’s the kicker … instead of using real actors, let’s use talking dogs!” Groan.

9. “Underground” (Mexico) Two Mexicans sneak across the border into the United States. One of them gets shot by a border patrol vigilante. The end. Flat, boring and overly political.

8. “Madagascar” (France) The animated travel diary of a trip through the eponymous country. The director switches animation styles almost every scene, which makes it feel like you’re watching his resumé. The pictures are pretty, but there’s no story, and watching someone else’s vacation slideshow gets old fast.

7. “Push Bike” (Australia) A middle-aged woman has to ride home naked from the swimming pool after some mean girls steal her swimsuit, and ends up having sex with a stranger. This has promise and feels vaguely like a scene out of an Almodovar film; the difference being Almodovar would explore the setup and fallout of this one night. Like a lot of shorts, this feels like a preview for a feature film more than a complete film in itself.

6. “Echo” (Poland) “Echo” has the same problem as “Push Bike” – it feels more like scenes from a movie than a complete movie in itself. But I’d be more interested in seeing this movie than the other. A police investigator tries to reconstruct a murder committed by two teen-age boys. Great use of setting, solid acting and atmosphere get ruined by a maudlin, overacted final scene.

5. “A Little Inconvenience” (Canada) A whimsical rumination on death and dying; this one’s about a man who can’t seem to keep his feet on the ground. The film’s sense of humor is very enjoyable, but director Helene Florent should have cast a more physically gifted leading man; he seems clumsy and awkward when he ought to be light and funny. But physical comedy is a lost art, and give her credit for approaching a somber subject from a light and funny angle, and making it work. Mostly.

4. “Watching” (United Kingdom) Do you know that scene in so many heist movies when the mastermind approaches a complete stranger and recruits him, based on some hidden skill the mastermind’s observed from afar? The conversation always goes something like this: “Don’t think. Just act. This is your one chance to break out of your boring life and do something exciting. And, I’m offering you a lot of money.” That’s the setup for “Watching” – but with a darkly funny twist ending, one that ought to have occurred to most of those characters in all of those movies. (Hint: when a guy encourages you to stop thinking and start acting, he’s probably conning you. Anyone who’s bought a used car knows that.)

3. “Party” (Croatia) A group of young, beautiful, very sexual people head out to the countryside for a picnic. They are so full of life and happiness that you kind of hate them for it. And then everything changes suddenly, and the film goes back over the ground it just covered in a strikingly, hauntingly different fashion. Dalibor Matanic makes masterful use of visual language in his direction, and his score works well to create an atmospheric rumination on the heavy costs of war.

2. “The Pool” (Ireland) A perfectly told story in less than 15 minutes. Four teen-age kids sneak into a closed swimming pool to see who can hold their breath the longest. Director Thomas Hefferon quickly, efficiently establishes the character dynamics and relationships, making them both individual and universal – everyone can relate to these kids. And then there’s just a touch of the supernatural/mystical, and a nail biter ending that just feels exactly right. Beautifully made.

1. “The War” (Italy) My favorite film of the festival is this examination of life in post-World War II Italy that feels more than a little indebted to the similar films of Federico Fellini. A young boy is sent, money in hand, to buy food, but instead buys a toy gun he sees along the way. When his father (a fascist who can’t get over the fact that his heroes lost the war) is sent to punish him, he joins the games instead. This is a tiny film with loads to say about war, men and women, politics and, ultimately, human nature, but it couches those things perfectly within the context of a family story that is exactly the right length. Sad, funny and heartwarming is a hard combination to pull off over the length of a feature film, but Paolo Sassanelli pulls it off in fewer than 15 minutes. That makes this my No. 1 pick.

You can read more of Willie Krischke’s reviews at www.gonnawatchit.com



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