SHORTS PROGRAM ONE:
SLEEPWALKER ^ (USA, 1998, 20 minutes, 16mm black and white, Directed by Geoff Klein) ^ A seemingly normal guy goes about his daily routine, only to awaken each night and sleepwalk to a local bar to rendezvous with a fellow sleepwalker. Our lead character starts and ends each day the same. He gets up each day, makes some toast, drinks his coffee and is off to the bus stop for another day of work. When he arrives home, he eats his frozen dinner and prepares his lunch for the next day. Normal, mundane stuff until our lead falls asleep. It appears that each night, at 1am, he follows an equally exact but very different routine. He sleepwalks out of the house, down to a local bar where he meets up with a female sleepwalker. Both wearing sunglasses and dressed in their pajamas, they enjoy dancing and drinks together before heading home to their regular daytime lives. Unaware of their meeting the night before, the two meet again at the bus top on their way to work. In a moment of realization their eyes fix on one another and the mystery of their nocturnal behavior is solved.
An interesting examination of two very different realities, Sleepwalker reveals that each of us share fantasies beyond our everyday work-a-day lives. What happens when those lives come together is what Sleepwalker is all about.
STALKER GUILT SYNDROME ^ (USA, 1999, 11 minutes, color 16mm, Directed by Jonah Kaplan) ^ Supposedly and urban legend, the “stalker guilt syndrome” occurs when two complete strangers end up walking in the same direction. The one following begins to like they are actual following or stalking the person ahead of them, feeling uncomfortable and guilty about doing so, when in reality they’re merely going towards the same place.
Set in New York City, a man ends up walking behind a woman after getting off at the same train stop. As he walks behind her, block after block, he has a whole inner dialogue going on about how he is heading towards the same place but fells strange about following this woman. At first he tries to cross the street, then stops to tie his shoe, but each time he ends up right behind her once more. He decides to tell her he’s just walking towards the same place but as he speeds up, she panics. What follows is a hilarious sequence of events where the man desperate to prove his innocence, actually takes on the appearance of being a stalker to the woman. Each time he tries to prove himself innocent it backfires, making him look progressively creepier and dangerous to the woman.
Each one of us at one time or another has fallen victim to this syndrome. It’s a fact of life, especially in urban areas. What this guy decides to do takes things to a whole new and neurotic level.
4AM – OPEN ALL NIGHT ^ (USA, 1999, 15 minutes, color 16mm, Directed by J. Miller Tobin) ^ A dialogue driven piece taking place in the confines of a late night diner, two people who share much in common, miss out on what could have been the romantic opportunity of a life time.
The film focuses primarily on a diner patron who comes in at 4 am each night, leaving his girlfriend in bed for a smoke, some coffee and a hamburger. As he talks with the counterman, who in this case is more like the stereotypical bartender, he discovers that his relationship has soured. Enter a beautiful young woman who shares the same love of late night diners, smoking and hamburgers. As the counterman and a newspaper stealing patron talk to each one, trying to set them up, we discover that each share the same fear of rejection. In the end though, neither has the courage to take a chance at an opportunity which could have changed the course of their lives.
Drawing upon the difficulties of meeting the right person in today’s dating game, 4am Open All Night attempts to deconstruct the cynicism felt by many to reveal a portrait of what could be. A fine short film posing insightful and relevant questions about the quest to meet that perfect person.
CRIMSON WINGS ^ (USA, 1998, 35 minutes, color 35mm, Directed by Minh Nguyen-Vo) ^ Crimson Wings poses the question of whether what we know as the present is actually a dream or reality. It’s a rather abstract short dealing with a painter, who after losing his wife in a car accident, struggles to not only continue with his work but to cope with emotionally intrusive dreams of his lost love.
After his wife’s funeral, the painter has visions and frequent dreams of his dead wife. As he reads his wife’s poems and tries each day to paint, he begins to question whether his dreams are reality or whether what he thinks is reality is actually a dream. It’s easy to get lost in the abstract nature of this film but the man’s love for and loss of his wife is the omnipresent theme binding it all together. He eventually comes to terms with the situation, returning to his art as a means of living between the two worlds.
Another question-posing short, Crimson Wings is beautifully shot, evoking the emotional torture of the lead, but at times a bit too long, taking a good thing and drawing it thin.
PEEP SHOW ^ (USA, 1999, 9 minutes, color 35mm, Directed by Charlie Call)
Of the two nights of short films, Peep Show received the most applause when the credits starting rolling. Peep Show satirizes the commonly known desires of the single woman.
A thirty-something woman visits a peep show like no other. She’s not here to see Chip & Dales style strip routines but something that will satisfy a need deeper than sex. First of all the booth isn’t what you’d typically think of for a peep show. It’s all tastefully done in red drapes with a makeup counter and a series of buttons on the wall. As she feeds the money into a slot in the wall she makes her selections from the buttons. With each selection a window opens featuring two men. They act out routines straight out of a woman’s dreams. They talk about commitment, cuddling, and stopping to ask for directions. In between the routines, while the window is closed, the men complain about the ridiculousness of what they are saying.
By far the best short of the festival, touching a chord with every man and woman in the theater.
THE SALESMAN ^ (USA, 1999, 21 minutes, black and white video, Directed by Matthew Janzen) ^ Ever watch a classic Chaplin or Keaton silent film and wish today’s filmmakers would take a stab at the amplified acting and physical comedy of this now ancient medium? Well director Matthew Janzen has done just that with The Salesman. Made to look exactly like a film from the silent era, The Salesman follows a day in the life of a shoe salesman.
As he tries desperately to convince customers to buy his shoes on the street, the little shoe salesman ends up at a family dinner by accident. A mother and father welcome a successful young suitor to their home to have dinner with their daughter. The salesman wanders into the mix, putting a monkey wrench in the suitor’s plans. What follows are textbook examples of the physical comedy and pratfalls made famous by Keaton and Chaplin.
The Salesman could easily be dismissed as merely an experiment in a style of filmmaking that has seen its day. Instead, it pays homage to the silent era by reminding the viewer of why motion pictures were created, to entertain.
AFI FEST SHORTS PROGRAM TWO:
BIG WHEEL ^ (USA, 1999, 12 minutes, color 35mm, Directed by Jeff Taupier)
A young boy attempts to use his imagination to escape his abusive father. When his fantasies fail to take him away from his shattered home life, the boy resorts to a potentially deadly course of action.
Big Wheel takes place sometime during the mid 1970’s, complete with accurate costumes and surroundings. Our lead, a 7-year-old boy, and his younger sister, try to find ways to deal with their angry, alcoholic father. The boy rides his big wheel around the neighborhood and has fantasies of being Elton John including his sister and babysitter as back up singers. This fantasy life is not enough as his father looses it one day, nearly strangling the family dog in front of the children. Leading their father to bed, the boy decides to let his father fall asleep smoking a cigarette.
Seeing the boy and his sister wearing their glam outfits and acting out in the boy’s fantasies is both fun and disturbing, as we know the circumstances behind his escape. His final action, to leave his father in a position where he could possibly die, is actually justifiable in the end.
HOMELAND ^ (El Salvador/USA, 1999, 29 minutes, color 35mm, Directed by Doug Scott) ^ Set in both New York City and El Salvador, a young gang member is deported for his part in the murder of a rival gang member.
Sent back to his native El Salvador, where he has not been since childhood, the gang member finds the only relative he can remember, his aunt. There, he struggles with the same pressures of gang life in order to survive. His aunt’s stories of tragedy during the war years in El Salvador, serve to bond the two together. In the end we get a sense that for the first time in his life, he has meet someone who has suffered more than he. Perhaps her strength will inspire him to carry on towards a life outside the violence of the gangs.
A touching short, Homeland is a real eye opener. In recent years we’ve been bombarded with stories of gangs and gang violence. In the case of Homeland, the sensationalism of this lifestyle is thrown out the window, instead the film digs into the isolation and confusion felt by a young man trying to find his way through the violence and poverty surrounding him.
DEAD ON TIME ^ (UK, 1999, 15 minutes, color 35mm, Directed by James Larkin)
Anther audience favorite and again for good reason. Dead on Time is a dark comedy satirizing the race to be the first at doing anything in the new millennium. A young man plans to be the first to commit suicide at the stroke of midnight on January 1st 2000.
As millennium revelry sweeps the rooming house he has set himself up in, a young man prepares to broadcast his own suicide over the internet. One major problem occurs, the electricity card that came with the room, runs out. When he goes to the landlord’s apartment he stumbles into the landlord’s own plan to be the first at something. His first is to be the first to murder someone in the new millennium.
Instead of focusing on an apocalyptic breakdown which many filmmakers associate with the year 2000, Larkin taps into something very different and much more entertaining. We’ve all heard the stories of couples trying to give birth to the first child of the new millennium, but as Larkin tells us, don’t be surprised at how many others are trying to achieve their own firsts.
KILLER ^ (Germany, 1998, 15minutes, color 35mm, Bernhard Landen) ^ If you’re like me, you’ve seen enough shorts and features alike about mobsters. With the international success of films like Pulp Fiction, it seems that Mafia fever has swept the world over. The only problem is that up and coming filmmakers have driven this genre into the ground. That’s probably why Killer received so little audience reaction at this festival.
Here’s the gist of the story. A hitman takes his final assignment, to kill a powerful mobster, only to be literally driven into the fiery depths of hell for his actions. While waiting for the call to proceed with his assignment, the hitman dreams of the kill. The problem is that, in the dream, the target refuses to die, no matter how many times he is shot. The phone call to proceed awakens him and he goes to carry out the deed. As in the dream, the Mafia boss will not die. He’s shot multiple times and even set on fire, but he keeps coming back to haunt the hitman. Eventually it’s revealed that the boss was sent to deliver the hitman to hell.
I admit the whole hell element is a new twist, but this short’s genre conventions were an overall disappointment.
NAILBITER ^ (UK, 1999, 10 minutes, black and white 35mm, Directed by Elliot Kew) ^ A crude and overbearing father, causes his son to develop a disturbing nervous habit, excessive nailbiting.
Best described as grotesque, Nailbiter relies on close examination of seemingly normal behavior from afar but up close this behavior takes on a new disturbing feature. The child’s nailbiting causes bleeding from his fingertips and close ups of the father eating dinner is almost too disgusting to watch. The mother’s frantic actions in the kitchen, preparing the family dinner, also take on a disturbing quality. Running through the film is the father’s abusiveness lying just below the surface, waiting to lash out. Thus turning the mother into a frantic mess and the son into a nervous nailbiter. After the father finally lashes out in a violent act, the mother takes action to relieve the house of his tyranny.
There is absolutely no conversation in the film. Nailbiter relies exclusively on camera movement to emphasize the emotion of the scene. In this regard, Nailbiter succeeds in relaying the dysfunctional nature of the family.
THE DUKE ^ (UK, 1998, 17 minutes, color 35mm, Directed by John McArdle) ^ Set in 1950’s Liverpool, a young boy believes that his grandfather is John Wayne and must deal with the resulting schoolyard taunts.
After his father is killed in the Korean War, a young boy develops a close relationship with his grandfather. An avid John Wayne fan, the boy’s grandfather reveals to him a secret, that he is in fact John Wayne. When the boy tells his friends of this, he meets with ridicule from schoolmates. The only way to resolve the situation is for John Wayne to make an appearance. What follows is both funny and touching as the grandfather rides into town for a showdown with the non-believers.
A much appreciated change of pace from the majority of the films in the shorts program, The Duke opens up the heart to the fantasy world of childhood. This time fantasy meets reality without tragedy or disappointment.