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.
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.
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.