I love shorts, and I love shorts programs at film festivals, because if something isn’t doing it for you, you can just wait it out for the next one. What I most love is to see how programmers put a group of films together to make something cohesive.Unfortunately, with the grouping of Texas Shorts, there is nothing holding the films together save the geographic ties of the filmmakers. That being said, there are quite a number of strong films in the program, which opens with the strongest, Dig. I’ve already raved about Dig in my preview (http://www.amfm-magazine.com/southby-cant-miss-picks/ ) so I’ll just say it holds up upon repeat viewing and Johnny Mars gives a spectacular performance as “Dad who Digs.”
Congratulations again to Director Toby Halbrooks for his exquisite short film. The second film,” One Armed Man,” was one of the least effective of the group. Despite fantastic performances and a really amazing production design, the film feels a lot more like a play than a film. Labored and a little predictable, “One Armed Man” does not take advantage of the medium of film, although I suspect it coupled be a killer high school competitive drama piece.
“Some Vacation” is a fun journey down nostalgia lane with effective use of animated old photos and family super8 video mixed together to color a simple childhood memory. There is a lot of style in this film, but not much conflict due to the nture of theyt way the story is told.
“Road Kill Zoo” sets up some interesting characters and has an awesome metal soundtrack but feels more like a teaser for a feature than a complete story. Shorts are a real hard balancing act of establishing depth of a world and populating it with fully-drawn characters, then giving them enough to do so they tell a story rather than just live in a moment. So many shorts never find a third act and decide instead that just ending it as the characters start their journey is good enough. A great short feels like a feature, just tighter.
“Easy” is a good example of this. It is the one film in the group that has enough mystery that I’d love to see a full length version of this story and yet as a stand alone 12 minutes, it really captures a fully realized tale of growing up and discovering one’s own sexuality. Full of nuanced performances, “Easy” has already been picked up Fandor for distribution, as well as a few other shorts by director Daniel Laabs.
“I Was A Teenage Girl,” great title aside, was a little too simple for me. Featuring two girls shot in extreme close up the whole time, I felt like I knew where the film was going 30 seconds into it and there was no surprise. That being said, the actors were fantastic and film looks amazing.
The program ended with the most enjoyable flm in the bunch, the hilarious “Molly.” Shot in black and white in the vacation wasteland of Corpus Christi, “Molly” opens with several minutes of the protagonist, played by Austin funnyman Byron Brown, crying, balling, and wallowing in various places. It’s uncomfortably ridiculous. Enter another of my favorite Austin actors, Jason Newman, to scheme with him about just how to get back at Molly, a very elaborate, very planned ‘break down.’ It is a bromance of the finest sort and full of out-loud laughs, something that if often lacking in shorts programs.
Director Craig Elrod really makes the kind of films that I think represent Austin well – they are funny, smart, and feature quirky characters that despite their moments of absurdity, always shine with an honest heart. If you have never seen his last feature, “The Man From Orlando,” track it down. The Texas Shorts program was very a nice collection of diverse films from a set of filmmakers that are worth keeping an eye on.