Photos By Ben Crosbie

The sixth annual DC Shorts Film Festival kicked off its week of screenings this Thursday, with a two-hour showcase of 11 short films that surprise with their depth of story, creativity, and entertainment value. I’ve been going to the fest for the last four years, and while there’s always reason for me to come back year after year, DC Shorts always has its share of lackluster flicks.  But Thursday’s screening demonstrated that one or all of following are true:

  • Opening night is always the best.
  • There are more and more indie filmmakers and they’re only getting better.
  • The selection committee is particularly savvy this year.

Here are my thoughts on the films in Showcase 1, which will screen again Saturday,  September 12 at 9:00 p.m. at the US Navy Memorial, and Sunday, September 12 at 1:00 p.m. at the E Street Landmark Theater. Pigeon:Impossible: A Secret Service agent armed with a ravishing donut inadvertently locks a pesty sugar-seeking pigeon into his go-go gadget nuclear briefcase.  A second Cold War nearly ensues.  Pros: With the look, feel, and near-technical prowess of a Toy Story film, this 7-minute animation demonstrates the now Pixar-famous feat of being able to capture a viewer’s undivided attention without any dialogue.  Cons: Despite bombs dropping and bullets flying from a pigeon-driven suitcase, the D.C. streets alongside the Mall appear strangely empty and havoc-less.  Chalk it up to time and budget, I guess.

Nodutgang (Emergency Exit):  In this short drama from Norway, a bank robber and a sick man looking to empty his bank account encounter each other and become bound up in one other’s problems.  Pros: I was intrigued until the end to learn about why a sick Norwegian man was emptying his bank account in US dollars, wearing aviators indoors, and keeling over with strange stomach pains.  Cons: I never actually learned in the end who this man was, or what his motives were. Nor could I figure out why the sick man wanted to help the bank robber, and why the two decided to casually sit and chat while being pursued by the authorities.

Taco Mary: An atheist discovers the Virgin Mary in his taco and becomes bewildered by the religious and commercial following that ensues. Remember that piece of toast with an image of Jesus that sold on ebay? This is something like that.  Pros: The characters are well drawn, from the angry Asian restaurant owner to the bored and humorless counter boy to the stink-eyed homeless woman at the corner booth.  Cons: While the first site of the Virgin Mary is hilarious in all of its over-the-top glowing glory, the film tries unsuccessfully to make statements about religion and consumerism.  Also: it’s always a bad thing when the description of the film explains what the film did not.

And What Remains: A father explores his relationship with his son and his memory of his own father in this narrated collection of old video and scenic shots of America’s heartland.  Pros: The ethereal and nostalgic feeling created by the old super 8 home videos used throughout this film warm the soul.  Cons: Viewers can easily feel excluded from what seems to be an intimate family portrait and may yearn for something with more of a narrative spine.

Sebastian’s Voodoo: A voodoo doll makes the ultimate sacrifice to save his friends from being pinned to death in this haunting animated tale.  Pros: The images were beautiful, more like a painting than an animation. And the dark nature of the story demonstrated that animation is a profound medium no longer exclusive to children’s stories.  Cons: I’m not sure I understand how voodoo dolls work anymore.

On the Road To Tel Aviv:  A young woman and her boyfriend confront the reality of war and  racial tensions within Israel as they select a public bus back to the city.  Pros: This 19-minute drama is even-handed in its careful portrayal of the Israeli struggle and never shies away from two difficult truths: our own racial consciousness and the fragility of life within a warring nation.  Cons: That “foreshadowing” from the first scenes? It gives away the ending! Also:  In addressing so much in such a short amount of time, the film risks being overly simplistic. Strange Fits of Passion That We Have Known: This 2 minute experimental film depicts wait staff in awkward motion, falling, jerking about, pulling their hair.  Pros: Once you get the point of this strange little ditty, the memory of your own waiting days brings a smile.  Cons: I wouldn’t really call these fits of passion, rather fits of absolute discomfort. And they were discomforting to watch.

Preschool’s a Bitch: In an effort to get their child into the best preschool, these parents will try just about anything.  Pros: Unfailingly funny, the film satirizes the near-clichéd obsession of US yuppies—that if their offspring don’t get into the best preschool, they are bound for mediocrity.  But the best part of this film is a cunning (and unforeseeable) twist at the end.  Cons: I think we’ve seen this narrative before.  Mercifully, the twist at the end saves the film from itself. Forever’s Not So Long: It’s the end of the world—or at least of the Eastern seaboard. With only hours to live, George discovers that it’s a perfect time to find someone with which to spend the rest of his life.  Pros: This apocalypse narrative reaches beyond the genre’s typical gloom with well-placed humor.  The take-home: that once past the superficiality of initial courtship, spending one’s life with someone can happen in only a number of hours: the unglamorous yet pleasing sex life; the simple but precious experience of reading together; the quarrel over a little too much spice in the stir-fry.  Cons: The characters never really digest the reality of the end of the world. The Colors of Veil: A documentary about a former US soldier, who was not raised in the Muslim religion but chooses to wear the veil because it helps to mark her identity as a woman of religion.  Pros: The story is a fascinating one, expecially in a time when the muslim veil is often equated with a woman’s lack of choice and control.  Cons: The film consists nearly entirely of sit-down interviews and little action.  Too much telling; not enough showing.

Porque Hay Cosas Que Nunca se Olvidan (Because There are Things You Can Never Forget): Four young boys playing in the streets accidentally kick their soccer ball into an elderly neighbor’s fenced patio.  She responds by popping it with her knitting needles, a sin not so easily forgotten.  Pros: Plenty of good foreshadowing keeps the viewer’s attention until the end.  Cons: The boys’ exaggerated response seems a tad dark for a film that ought to carry itself on humor.