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Movie Review: 2008 ATA Film & Video Festival: Short Film Reviews (Part 1)

Since I haven’t chatted with ATA Film & Video Festival director Isabel Fondevila in too much detail about the fest’s third edition running Oct. 2-4 this year , I don’t know if there was a deliberate theme chosen for the short films screening on the 3rd. But, after reviewing the DVD preview of them that Fondevila sent me, I couldn’t help to pick up on what I felt were the shorts’ thematic connective tissue: An inablity of each film’s main “character” — whether it’s a human being or not — to deal with the modern world.

It’s a great mix of films. There are experimental narratives, straight-up comedies, non-narrative works, re-mixed old media and a documentary. With a broad showcase of a wide variety of film styles, the overall theme of the night isn’t one that bashed me on the head, but somethng I picked up on after about halfway through them. However, since I did pick up on it, the reviews below will be written through that lens:

Why Was I Born, dir. Marlon Gonzalez. This is the story of three very different people abandoned by life and left to drift in three different time periods until the cosmos brings them together. A ’60s blues musician wakes up in a field of cows after his wife leaves him, a ’70s blues lover walks the dark city streets after getting jilted and a modern Asian woman feels distant and disconnected from her family. These stories are presented chronologically and the stories seem just to be three very different meditations on the same theme of loneliness, until there’s a jolting twist about halfway through the movie that brings them together, whether all of them know it or not. It’s a sad, but beautiful little film that lets us know that even during the darkest pits of our despair when we feel like we’re all alone in the universe, the universe has other ideas for us.

Vivid Dreams, dir. Jim Granato. This documentary composed of archival photos, recreations and voice-over narration tells the story of Joan Granato and how her childhood aspirations of becoming a world traveler were squashed as an adult. It’s heartbreaking and frightening at the same time. Joan’s first step at achieving her goal was to travel to Africa with the Peace Corps. While over there, she was given an anti-malaria drug that has the side effect of giving vivid dreams. However, for some, those “dreams” seep into the waking world and Joan experiences psychotic episodes that send her back home for a stint in the mental ward. Although “cured,” she still has trouble deciphering the reality of what happened to her versus what was going on in her head. Absolutely tragic.

Ants (Ants Ants Ants), dir. Clare Samuel. This bug-infested short struck a personal nerve with me since I’m constantly battling ant invasions in my apartment. These ants, though, spill out of a guy’s ear while he sleeps and terrorizes him while he eats. The ant swarms in the film are stop-motion animated, but I was totally grossed-out nonetheless. When the hapless dude finally breaks down and pleads with the ants to leave him alone, I really felt for him. There’s some humor to the film, but I was completely horrified the whole time.

Case Histories in Psychotherapy, dir. Tony Gault. This is a clever re-mix of a couple different videos from mostly the ’70s. The first is an educational video that is a therapy session for “Richard,” a lonely middle-aged guy looking for love in all the wrong places. Cut to a Robert Stack TV show — I’m guessing Most Wanted — about the hunt for a psycho killer who stalks women at the disco. It’s hilarious, but you can’t help but feel sorry for “Richard” who Gault makes look like a total maniac. But who would sign up to have a therapy session recorded on video? Must have been a precursor to today’s modern reality shows.

Kogel Vogel, dir. Frederico Campanale. You know those scientific videos that show bullets being fired from a gun in extreme slow-motion. Campanale does that here, but with a haunting twist. The gun in his film is fired at panes of glass, shot in such a way that you can’t really see the glass at all. So, all you get is bullets flying through the air, creating dust clouds behind them. It’s beautiful to watch, but with the low, droning soundtrack, the effect is positively eerie.

The Quiet Storm, dir. Jibz Cameron. Shot very simply, the “storm” of the title is the constant stream of negative self-criticism running through the lead character’s head — a manic woman who second guesses everything that comes out of her mouth to the point that she imposes a vow of silence on herself so as not to say anything else stupid to anybody. The crazed lead character stands and walks in front of a green screen that projects various locales behind her: a city street, a deli, a campsite, et. al, while all the other “characters” are just photograph cutaways of people. The inner dialogue that we hear via voiceover is appropriately irritating and a great approximation of what goes through all our heads during the course of a day. It’s maddening enough — and hilarious — to the point that you just wants to grab this loser, shake her up and give her a book on meditation to help her snuff out the voices once and for all.

Sunshine Bob, dir. Christian Simmons. The “Bob” of the title is one of the creepiest, half-built animatronic dummies ever created. Poor Bob can’t do anything first without asking permission, whether he’s asking his food if it wants to be eaten or if a fire wants to be put out. His incessant asking has completely immobilized him from acting, except for his plastic eyeballs rattling back and forth in his hollowed-out eye holes.

Martha’s Party, dir. Marthaxiv. Unfortunately, the only “party” going on is inside Martha’s head and she experiences so much phone anxiety, so might just be missing the event of a lifetime. Well, that’s what I was imagining was on the other end of the line. Just pick up the phone, Martha!

Mr. Gary on the Feedback Show, dir. Lise Swenson. Ever wonder what sad, lonely souls call into late night TV programs? Meet one, a kindly, but seemingly deranged under the surface, old woman primps herself up just to be able to call into Mr. Gary. Calling in to talk to a famous stranger is more important to her than noticing that her own life is passing her by and that she’s all alone in the world. From the title, I was expecting some sort of madcap comedy, although I’m not sure why. But, despite the colorful decor of the old woman’s home and the gelled mood lighting, this is really a dark, sad little film. There are some times people should just shut off the TV and go out and experience the world. The happy decorations that surround this woman is probably an outer reflection of the delusions she tells herself on the inside.

Sphinx on the Seine, dir. Paul Clipson. I don’t know if this film was actually shot on or around the Seine, but I figured it was some sort of cubist interpretation of the famous river. Although the sun glistens prettily on the water, the area surrounding the Seine is butt-ugly. Electrical wires criss-cross the sky, cars zoom by on a nearby highway, the film kind of reminded me of the famous Robert Crumb illustration A Short History of America.

Click here to read Part 2 of my ATA Film & VideoFestival shorts reviews.


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