Shorts Program I
The Chicago Critics Film Festival hosts two shorts programs through its week-long run. This covers their first program scheduled for May 13. Directors Mark Borchardt (The Dundee Project) and Laura Moss (Fry Day) will be in attendance for a Q&A.
Drawn & Recorded: Teen Spirit
This Spotify-produced animated short details the origin of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. It’s a concise, visually appealing piece that’s careful not to extend beyond its intentions. Which is to say that it threads fairly close to becoming more a trivia curiosity than a piece of genuine artistry. Still, for those unfamiliar with the story, it’s an illuminating, inoffensive, and welcome introduction to the program. Noteworthy.
Approaching a Breakthrough
Some familiar faces populate this walk through Central Park, including Kieran Culkin and Mae Whitman. Approaching a Breakthrough details the neurotic misadventures of a young New Yorker (Culkin) as he’s confronted with the realities of his past infidelities and screw-ups. It’s an amusing delight, never extending beyond it’s welcome though painfully obvious in its execution. It’s really just a nugget of an idea, executed with formal competence, but its existential anxieties suggest something more profound. I’d be curious to see Pritzker handle this material in a longer format.
(Axel Danielson & Maximilien Van Aertryck)
This simple conceit observes various men and women atop a ten-meter high diving board. Typically split into two screens, we see some nifty formal patterns emerge, where the viewer watches as each person rationalizes between panic and calm before either making the jump or stepping down the ladder. It’s a terrific ethnographic study, one that’s so compulsively watchable and tense. A real highlight. Highly Recommended.
Detailing a UFO Festival in Dundee, Wisconsin, Mark Borchardt interviews various locals in an attempt to comprehend this backwards phenomenon. The key component here is the director’s ironic narration, which struck me as an especially nihilistic tonal choice. Borchardt’s chief interview is with a local loon named UFO Bob, whose self-incriminating diatribe comes across as an unnecessary assault. Sure to generate its fair share of laughs, Borchardt never takes his subjects especially seriously and succumbs to overwhelming cynicism. This was practically unendurable.
(Lucas Leyva and Jillian Mayer)
This rather unconventional short film sees its puppeteers dressed in all black, performing on-stage with an audience. Kaiju Bunraku details a couple under siege by an earthquake-producing monster. The craft on display is clearly very sophisticated, but its narrative obligations hinder what could’ve been a more ephemeral exercise.
Tough details a conversation between a young English woman and her Chinese mother. The two candidly discuss their heritage and the divergent values instilled in their upbringing in what becomes a confrontation between Maoist principles and Western ideals. The animation is vivid, utilizing a palette of red and black, with Zheng’s existential struggles between reconciling her Chinese heritage and perceived whiteness rendered with the utmost thoughtfulness. Recommended.
The highlight of the program, Laura Moss’ Fry Day involves an adolescent girl taking Polaroids at $2 a piece as a crowd gathers near the Florida State Prison to celebrate the execution of Ted Bundy. There’s a throughline statement within the film that explores the very sensitive and difficult transition from childhood to adulthood, particularly as it pertains to women. And as a cultural object, it serves as a foreboding warning on naivety and trust that’s so often afforded to white men. Moss displays an acute visual eye, with Fry Day possessing a particularly potent ephemeral quality that lingers well after the screen cuts to black. Highly Recommended.
Hell You Talmbout
(Denzel Boyd, Joseph Webb, and Tyler Rabinowitz)
This call to action short involves a Seattle tap dance troupe as they pay tribute to the numerous victims of violence in the black community. I hesitate to call the film an inspiration, but its energy is persuasive and kinetic. It’s an admirable social object that falls short of actually saying cinematically salient or politically puissant.