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Short And (Thankfully) Not Overly Sweet Films

"Slomo." (Courtesy, Independent Film Festival Boston)

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First came The Dude. Then came Slomo.

If you’re looking for new slow-motion rollerblading moves and a holistic reboot on how to live, Slomo, a neurologist-turned-beach-gliding guru, has got it down. Under 16 minutes, in fact.

“Slomo” is both man and “short format” movie title at this week’s Independent Film Festival Boston (IFFBoston). The 11th annual festival is underway through next Tuesday and brings its programmers’ favorites from Sundance, SXSW, and Toronto in combination with world and regional premieres.

Slomo is smooth, but we’re not talking Chicken Soup for the Cineaste here. This year’s shorts are solace for teenagers who collect vacuums, uptight professors who daydream about cowboys, or guys like Slomo, who start rollerblading. And can’t stop.

That’s what makes Slomo an ideal documentary character: He has an oddball hobby that he’s kicked up a notch. In this case, he extends one skate high behind his back, into an airplane-like holding pattern. The way he connects to the Earth’s gravity during his move, he explains, connects him to God. Yet some shreds of the rational world remain. “I kept waiting for this obsession with skating to differentiate itself into some diagnosable problem. That was 15 years ago,” he says.

“Slomo” is one of 37 short films, more than the festival has shown in previous years, according to IFFBoston program director Adam Roffman. “Shorts are faring very well in American indie filmmaking exhibition,” he said. Roffman gave examples of short film alumni who have returned with features, such as Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden (“Half Nelson”), Guy Maddin (“The Saddest Music in the World”), and Sean Dunne, director of this year’s feature documentary, “Oxyana.”

Shorts are screened in programs of five films on average and are organized by genre. Documentary has four programs while animated and live action narrative have one each. This year there’s also a package of Irish shorts co-presented by the Boston Irish Film Festival (“C” program, Saturday April 27 at 12:45 p.m., Somerville Theatre). “Slomo” plays in the documentary shorts “E” program (Thursday April 25 at 7:30 p.m. and Monday April 29 at 9:30 p.m., Somerville Theatre).

Another standout from block “E” is “Gold Party” by local filmmaker Nellie Kluz. Whereas “Slomo” and others in the pack are character-driven (the kid vacuum collector, for example, shows up in “See The Dirt,” program “G”), “Gold Party” is propelled by nimbly edited images and ambient sound as scrap gold leaves New England and enters a global economy.

"Gold Party" by Nellie Kluz. (Courtesy IFFBoston)

“Gold Party” by Nellie Kluz. (Courtesy IFFBoston)

Ostensibly about pyramid-style parties where guests drink wine and turn in their gold jewelry for cash, “Gold Party” is also part process film, with outstanding footage of gold bars being poured at a plant in Rhode Island, and social commentary that lets human behavior speak for itself. One guest blushes over the stack of cash he receives in exchange for large gold-plated bowls. A dealer rubs his head and presses a phone to his ear while trying to explain gold pricing. Close-ups of hands—so many of them—pound at calculators, untangle nests of gold necklaces, and wrap packages to ship to the next stage. The effect keeps an eye more on the trade, less on the characters, though they shine through as well.

While shooting “Gold Party,” Kluz wrote a note to herself on her blog: “it’s important to remember adjectives like ‘kaleidoscopic.’” That must have worked for her. Just as important, Kluz, and most (though not all) of her comrades with shorts at this festival understood and maximized the parameters of the short form. That was particularly true for “The Professor,” a Lydia Davis short story adapted for the screen by Alison Maclean, which plays in the in the narrative shorts “B” program. In it, a perfectly cast mousey professor (Dana Eskelson) dreams of marrying a cowboy instead of moving with her husband to the East Coast.

Also in the “B” program (Friday April 26 at 10:15 p.m., Somerville Theatre), is the frighteningly concise, “Vladimir Putin in Deep Concentration.” As Vladimir Putin is escorted through vacant Moscow streets by way of motorcade and red carpet, a reportorial American voice flatly recounts Putin’s modest days in the KGB to his rise to power and recent hyper-masculine antics. That the same Putin footage was also used in the irreverent “Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer” (touring festivals but not this one) only adds to the subterfuge. The culminating, perhaps hiding in plain sight statement, “Vladmir Putin is the most powerful man in the world,” should stop the traffic in any viewer’s brain. (Curiously, it plays here among narratives but among documentaries at other festivals.)

Two short documentaries about labor play in documentary program “G” (Monday, April 29 7p.m., Somerville Theatre). In “Paraiso,” Chicago window washers yearn to walk Michigan Avenue with a Starbucks “all relaxed, just like that.” “The Last Ice Merchant” is a cinematically stunning portrait of a 67-year-old ice miner who uses traditional methods to chip, pack, and haul glacial ice to a market that no longer needs it. “G” also has two films with local ties. “The Gambling Man” is about a Connecticut man who writes a symphony even though he can’t read or perform, per se, music. “Install: Sound, Light & Craig Colorusso” walks the Massachusetts shores with a punker who has transformed his relationship to sound into art installations.

"The Last Ice Merchant" by Sandy Patch. (Courtesy, IFFBoston)

“The Last Ice Merchant” by Sandy Patch. (Courtesy, IFFBoston)

While no single theme necessarily unites each block of shorts, Roffman explained that the team tries to strike a balance so that no single block is “all heavy or all light.” “With [documentary] shorts package F, we bookended it with “Die Like An Egyptian” and “We Will Live Again,” two films that deal with death in very different ways,” he said. Indeed in the former, a man builds his own coffin in the Egyptian technique; in the latter, the Cryonics Institute takes care of its “metabolically challenged patients.”

Certainly nonfiction can be stranger than fiction but there’s no denying the artistry and person power required to craft animated shorts such as Daniel Sousa’s “Feral.” It screens in animated package “A” (Friday April 26 at 7:15 pm an Sunday April 28 at noon, Somerville Theatre). Sousa, who has taught locally, drew on the talent of area college students to help paint and draw his mythical tale about a wild boy discovered in the woods. After “Feral” premiered at Sundance, he reflected on the reality that too often, short films are not seen as an end goal. “They are almost seen as calling cards or proof of concept,” he said. “That’s absolutely not the case in my work. I think of short film as its own art form.”

As a returning alum to IFFBoston, Sousa and others who work exclusively in short format, have found a home for their art.

More on Independent Film Festival Boston:

Kaj Wilson reviews three films.

Erin Trahan edits The Independent, an online magazine about independent filmmaking and exhibition.

 

THE SHORTS PROGRAM

SHORTS A: ANIMATED

Fri, 4/26 7:15 PM
Sun, 4/28 12:00 PM
Somerville Theatre
AFTER YOU (7min)
FERAL (13min)
IRISH FOLK FURNITURE (8min)
MARCEL, KING OF TERVUREN (6miN)
OH WILLY… (17min)


SHORTS B: NARRATIVE

Fri, 4/26 10:15 PM
Somerville Theatre
BETTER PEOPLE (11min)
BLACK METAL (9min)
JESUS FISH (22min)
MAGNESIUM (21min)
THE PROFESSOR (14min)
VLADIMIR PUTIN IN DEEP CONCENTRATION (9min)
SKIN (13min)
SOCIAL BUTTERFLY (14min)


SHORTS C: IRISH

Sat, 4/27 12:45 PM
Somerville Theatre
THE ATTENDANT (12min)
HOME (15min)
TWO HEARTS (18min)
TWO WHEELS, GOOD (9min)
THE END OF THE COUNTER (13min)

SHORTS D: DOCUMENTARIES

Sun, 4/28 12:30 PM
Somerville Theatre
TRACK BY TRACK (16min)
WHEN THE ZOMBIES COME (9min)
THE BIRDMAN (10min)
POUTERS (17min)

SHORTS E: DOCUMENTARIES

Thu, 4/25 7:30 PM
Mon, 4/29 9:30 PM
Somerville Theatre
GOLD PARTY (17min)
REBORNING (8min)
REINDEER (4min)
SLOMO (16min)
WORLD FAIR (25min)

SHORTS F: DOCUMENTARIES

Sat, 4/27 9:15 PM
Somerville Theatre
BEN: IN THE MIND’S EYE (13min)
DEAR VALUED GUESTS (16min)
DIE LIKE AN EGYPTIAN (9min)
THE RANCHER (7min)
WE WILL LIVE AGAIN (12min)

SHORTS G: DOCUMENTARIES

Mon, 4/29 7:00 PM
Somerville Theatre
THE GAMBLING MAN (18min)
INSTALL: SOUND, LIGHT & CRAIG COLORUSSO (20min)
PARAISO (PARADISE) (10min)
SEE THE DIRT (16min)
THE LAST ICE MERCHANT (14min)

Comments

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  • NVH

    Exceptional story on short films! Looking forward to seeing them at IFFBoston.

  • http://underplex.com/ Brandon @ underplex.com

    Hey Erin, Brandon Irvine here. I caught the narrative program two nights ago. Generally, I liked “Skin” the most — was pretty blown away, actually, by the great great cinematography (damn near every shot was perfectly composed) and the overall story was a great example of making a story work in under 15 mins.

    My runner-up was “Putin.” Interesting point about whether it’s a documentary or narrative. Now that I think about it, maybe that’s what made it powerful. It feels like part of the power of it was that the director was somehow reappropriating the Putin footage. It’s kind of a fine line between reappropriating something and just replaying it, though, so it’s hard to tell.

    I hate to say it, but I think there was something wrong with the playback on “Putin” (assuming it was digital); there was a strange jumpy effect that was distracting. Still, worth seeing.

  • Erin Trahan

    Hi Brandon, if you liked SKIN you may also like Harmony Korine’s GUMMO. Different, possibly opposing sentiments but similar imagery… SKIN also reminded me of FRANKENWEENIE, which I still have to see.