A Night at Smogdance

After a 40 mile drive to Claremont, I find myself back in film class, in an auditorium with desks in the seats, a large screen that feels small, and 170 other people all sharing the same experience.

Yes that’s right readers; I’m at the 10th anniversary of Smogdance. It’s the second night of the three-day festival filled with 12 shorts of varying lengths and quality. I’m armed with my notebook and my contraband water and ready for action. Shorts, dazzle me!

Some initial thoughts:

*Sitting in the third row under a small screen – please no one sit in front of me (people did, but there was quite a crowd).

*What’s this mystery short that’s on the ballot but not in the program?

*Why isn’t the show starting on time?

Fear not, it did eventually start. First up, my highlights (I’ll update the official results later):

Best Comedy: “Deleted Scenes” (Ryan Gielen)

Two former friends, who once starred in a film together, reunite to record a director’s commentary. They subsequently engage in a passive-aggressive battle of wills and wit like only ex-friends can; it’s a dark, toxic comedy that rips the characters to shreds. It’s comedy strictly for adults, and I can only hope it wins the prize.

Runner Up: “Strangely Inappropriate Guy” (Paul Bartholomew)

Yes, it was the shortest of the shorts, clocking in at just two minutes, but what a two minutes. This new office worker, think of an uncensored Michael Scott, can’t seem to help himself from being the office weirdo. And this may be my dork-like attention to detail talking, but I can’t hate a film that featured the original (and best) “Hairspray” DVD in a background shot (long live Divine!). It’s too short for a win, but what a delight.

Best Open/Experimental: “Vanished Acres” (Adam Bolt)

Far and away, my favorite short of the night. Bolt, who directed, wrote and animated the film (along with directing the intra-film music video), is someone to watch. It has been a long time since I’ve seen a new director with such visual flare, and here he is. It’s the story of a lonely farmer who discovers a secret about his dead wife, and every shot of the film (even the gross shots) is gorgeous, and every piece of light is used to maximize the emotion/thoughts of the troubled main character.  I cannot say enough good things about this haunting film that more than likely I will be buying soon. During the closing credits, this is the one that got the most excited whispers, and I have to hope that the audience and judges side with me on this one.

Runner-Up: “The Room” (Valdes’)

It opens with a woman locked in a room, blood smeared all around, and a voice telling her repeatedly to take her pill. I fully expected to see the latest entry in the torture-porn genre, but with a minimal budget and special effects, the directors did a fantastic job creating mood and tension in a small space with a small budget. But what kept this out of the top spot was that the monster is a woman on her period. Is this really how men see women? If so, congratulations writers, you have found your issues. Work on them, but do keep writing.

Animated:

The animated films, while all cute and executed well, didn’t impress me. I voted for “The Late Mister Cubicle,” an Anime short that could have used a separate credit sequence, but I have no stake in this contest. I was with “Simulacra,” about a robot seeking out an extinct flower, until the last shot, which I saw as more cruel than funny. And while I think “Lost Utopia” is about Adam and Eve’s exile from the Garden of Eden, it seriously lacked coherence and probably could have used more structure.

Lowlights:

As you would expect, there were a few clunkers in the bunch, both of them in the Open/Experimental group.

“My Day at the Beach” (Messersmith) might have pleased some, but oy, what a boring exercise. A man and his girlfriend ride to the beach, stay there for a while, than he rides home. Sure, some plot stuff happens, but that’s the gist of it. And I’m nitpicking, but spelling counts for a copy editor (my day job), especially in subtitles. On your next film, edit the titles better, and I’ll rate your movie higher.

And I’m certain that I didn’t like “Radio” (Jeffrey L. Gangwisch) because I didn’t get it, and I’m OK with that. If someone would like to explain it to me, I will listen, but as of right now, it was nonsensical and for something that was supposed to be a radio broadcast, the sound sucked. It that was the point, well done, but this is one short that might be too experimental for its own good.

The middleweights: To close up, the films I didn’t mention above.

“Code Blue” (Jennifer Still) wasn’t shown because the copy wasn’t useable. :(

“Diary of a User” is the mystery entry I mentioned above. It’s based around a poem (used as a voiceover), and while I liked the words, the approach just made the short come across false. A shame.

“Pizza Guy” (Symons): A “Three’s Company”-esque short about two dizzy women ordering pizza on a girls-night-in. Funny certainly, but it’s nothing more than that.

“20Q” (Benjamin Keith): A mockumentary on the newest craze sweeping the country, professional rounds of “Twenty Questions.” It’s funny in small doses, and if you’re a Christopher Guest fan, here’s a short for you; as I’m not a fan, “20Q” just didn’t work for me.