Before launching into my short film picks for MIFF I’d better get the disclaimers out of the way: I’ve been the Shorts Coordinator for the festival since March so I was heavily involved in programming these films. I have zero objectivity about the shorts as I adore them all and think they all should be seen on the big screen. I should also note that the programming of these films was heavily dependant on the advice, expertise and work of my predecessor, the rest of the MIFF programming team and the invaluable shorts panellists. There are also some programs that were compiled completely independently of me.
Rather than going into every program in length I thought I’d pick the top five short films that I am the most excited by. These aren’t necessarily the best films, but the ones that I think I can use to convey my excitement for the program as a whole.
The standoff between an American cop and two Mexican men suspected of smuggling is as tense, thrilling and dramatic as anything I’ve seen on television or in feature films in the past few years. Over its short running time it delivers mystery, action, moral ambiguity and a ballad of intense anger and passion.
Screens in OUTSIDE THE LAW SHORTS along with two terrific Australian films exploring different aspects of criminality, a poetic Puerto Rican film about the drug trade and a heist film that stars Michael Fassbender.
The expression Lynchian gets thrown around far too casually when discussing unconventional cinema, but in this case it is appropriate even though claymation animator Robert Morgan has created something quite unique. This film is grotesque, terrifying and hilarious all at the same time. The story is surreal, the imagery is nightmarish and it taps into a range of preverse primal anxieties. Like I said: Lynchian.
Screens in WTF SHORTS along with a range of other weird, terrifying and funny cinematic oddities including an erotic animation set on a tram, a very disturbing documentary using home videos, a strangely beautiful mockumentary about amusement park rides, an experiment reanimating a chicken, uncanny horror from Brazil, rape-revenge from Italy and an Australian film about a mutating Japanese salary man.
This is a powerful piece about a man fleeing from Kosovo with his family in 1999. The long car convoy out of the region, which is frequently stopped at Serbian checkpoints, is compared to the protagonist’s memory of happier times where a car convoy was used for a wedding.
Themes of ageing, memory, mortality and generational change are popular ones in a lot of the cinema that I have been interested in recently. This film captures those themes with amazing sincerity. It begins with carefree naturalism and builds to a deeply moving finale, using poetic cinematic techniques that perfectly suit the mood of the film.
I haven’t seen the other two film that precede this film in animator Don Hertzfeldt’s trilogy so I wasn’t prepared for its emotional intensity. I remember first seeing Hertzfeldt’s early films at MIFF and adoring his wicked, anarchic and frequently violent sense of humour. However, this film combines his deceptively simple animated figures with a complex array of mixed media to create something very beautiful, sad and profound.
Screens in ANIMATION SHORTS along with new work by Atsushi Wada, Joseph Pierce and the Walt Disney Animation Studios, as well as emerging new talent both locally and internationally.
Elsewhere in the festival there is the DOCUMENTARY SHORTS program, where you get to scale down skyscrapers in Chicago, climb mountains in Ecuador and get posture advice from an elderly former-Olympic gymnast. The doco program also includes I Kill, a frank and fascinating film about the work of a mobile slaughterman.
Fans of experimental films should be enjoy EXPERIMENTAL SHORTS, which contains three Australian films and new works by international experimental filmmakers such as Nicolas Provost, Ken Jacobs and Henry Hills, whose wonderful jazz-scored cut-up epic Arcana concludes the program.
I won’t say much specifically about the AUSTRALIAN SHORTS, ACCELERATOR 1 or ACCELERATOR 2 programs since I am probably too close to them. There are a bunch of excellent films across these three programs representing the latest work of established and emerging filmmakers, predominately from Australia (the MIFF Accelerator program also includes three New Zealand filmmakers and one Canadian filmmaker this year). The diversity in style, stories and themes is extremely encouraging and it’s exciting seeing these films knowing that many of the filmmakers will go on to make the next batch of major Australian feature films. Some of the best shorts in the festival are included across these three programs.
Otherwise, there are a couple of programs that I haven’t been involved in plus various other bits and pieces, including the shorts showing before features. These include Double or Nothing, a savage social satire written by Neil LaBute that once more sees him examining class, race and misogyny in American society. I also really like Brainy, a strange and beautiful New Zealand/Danish co-production about a boy who believes his dead grandfather has the power to bring animals back to life, and Barbie Blues, a very provocative and confronting film exploring adolescent sexuality and the male gaze that makes the audience complicit in its swift change from playfulness to something far more sinister.