Anyone who has been around film festivals can tell you that the best submissions are usually the short films. Feature films—especially in this video age where making a long film is practical—are often undertaken by people who aren’t yet capable of sustaining 90 minutes or so of movie. The appeal of the feature is obvious: It gets more attention, and there’s always the possibility of a distribution deal. On the other hand, what are you going to do with a short? Owing to this, shorts are often a labor of love, made with a great deal of care. This is certainly true of the four short films I was able to see from the Twin Rivers Media Festival. They come from a variety of places—Israel, Australia, Hungary, Hollywood—and address wildly diverse topics.
Nizan Mager’s I Am God is a fairly metaphysical work detailing a traveler in Israel who has “lost himself,” but discovers himself anew when he undertakes a random act of kindness. Not the best of the set I saw (though its political nature likely gives it a festival edge), but a good film, with the ability to effectively interweave reality, memory and fantasy.
The Von—called “a mostly true story”—is a cheeky little fantasy about an Australian boy on the verge of adolescence who fancies himself a superhero, despite some pretty obviously human failings involving a locked bathroom and some soiled underwear. A winning performance from the lead, Jacob Bicknell, and surprisingly sophisticated effects mark this entry from John Mavety.
Andra Novak’s Szirena (Siren), a film from Hungary, is for my money the jewel of these films. It tells a very simple story (that isn’t simple at all) about an encounter between a young boy playing soldier and two Russian soldiers in the war-torn streets of Budapest during the 1956 Hungarian uprising—and the accidentally tragic consequences of that encounter, as well as their lingering aftermath. Beautifully photographed, acted and edited, Szirena is the essence of good short filmmaking on a par with Roman Polanski’s early works in the form.
Not surprisingly, the slickest entry is Jack Swanstrom’s Hollywood-produced A.W.O.L., which is bolstered by top production values and some name actors (David Morse, John C. McGinley). While worthy and well done, it’s the most Hollywoodized of the ones I screened, with a story that seems equally influenced by Jacob’s Ladder (1990) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Scripted by Hollywood veteran Shane Black (Lethal Weapon) under the name Holly Martins (the name of Joseph Cotten’s character in Carol Reed’s The Third Man), it’s a clever, handsome film with several truly nightmarish moments—and a whiff of current political commentary.
All four short films are very worth seeing—and there are more that I didn’t have the opportunity to screen.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke