Shorts Program 1

A scene from Don Hertzfeldt's  World of Tomorrow Episode Two: The Burden of Other People's Thoughts  {Photo: BITTER FILMS}

A scene from Don Hertzfeldt's World of Tomorrow Episode Two: The Burden of Other People's Thoughts {Photo: BITTER FILMS}

The Chicago Critics Film Festival hosts two shorts programs through its week-long run. The following covers their shorts programming scheduled for Sunday, May 6th starting at 2:30pm. Director and star of Runner, Clare Cooney, and Allen Anders star/writer Tony Grayson are scheduled to attend for a post-screening Q&A.

(Clare Cooney)

A notable selection from last year’s Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival, I was pleased to revisit Clare Cooney’s locally filmed and produced Runner. It involves a runner’s (Clare Cooney) especially unsavory morning jog as she observes a relationship squabble intensify into something grave. Within its brief runtime, Cooney astonishingly captures the deep-rooted sense of grief that haunts a woman incapable of escaping the trauma she witnessed. Recommended.

(Anna Margaret Hollyman)

Written, directed, and starring Anna Margaret Hollyman (most notable for her starring role in Zach Clark’s White Reindeer), this short observes a babysitter embracing motherhood. It’s more or less a series of gags that sees Hollyman’s character accept motherhood by taking advantage of certain societal mores. The eventual punchline works, but it’s all a bit too obvious and simplistic to get much of anything out of it.

My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes
(Charlie Tyrell)

Thematically reminiscent of the recent Oscar-nominated short, Ru Kuwahata and Max Porter’s Negative Space, Charlie Tyrell’s My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes is the filmmaker’s cathartic response to his father’s death. Tyrell eschews traditional documentary-style testimonials for something a bit more animated and visually complex. It’s an impressive blend of stock footage and busy interview sequences (using alternating photographs of the interviewee), all united through David Wain’s frank but soulful narration. Moving, stirring stuff.  Highly Recommended.

Painting with Joan
(Jack Henry Robbins)

A riff on Bob Ross’ The Joy of Painting, Jack Henry Robbins’ Painting with Joan struck me as a fundamentally un-useful short to think about. It features one impressive illustration of Dennis Rodman performing cunnilingus, which I suppose is this short’s lasting, if only, impression.

Allen Anders: Live at the Comedy Castle (circa 1987)
(Laura Moss)

Laura Moss contributed to last year’s Chicago Critics Film Festival with what I considered to be a festival highlight, Fry Day. Her new short, Allen Anders: Live at the Comedy Castle (circa 1987) struck me as an unfortunate step backward. This analog feedback loop of a comedian’s woeful on-stage breakdown, all as an audience responds with the same tired gestures of indifference. Stripped of ambiguity and resorting to simplistic signals of discomfort, the film strains for profundity. 

Great Choice
(Robin Comisar)

Robin Comisar’s Great Choice garnered quite the festival reputation over the past year and its inclusion in this year’s festival isn’t especially surprising. You may have heard about this one: it involves a recurring loop of a Red Lobster commercial, where the ad’s actress (Carrie Coon) becomes increasingly cognizant of her role within the commercial. It’s a blasé, self-aware, straining for hipness exercise that only gets a little more interesting toward the end of the proceedings, where it mutates into a commentary on … it’s probably better left unsaid. The ironic, woefully self-conscious way it reaches this conclusion doesn’t feel especially earned, but I give it credit for pulling the veil over me and offering a conclusion that resembles something thoughtful.

World of Tomorrow
(Don Hertzfeldt)

Revisiting my favorite film of 2015 for the umpteenth time and it continues to echo heavily within my chest. My heart skips a beat as Emily Prime reconnects with her sadness, with her initial inability to contend with loss, and eventually coming to terms with her all too enviable position as a living person. I’ve long considered Hertzfeldt’s Everything Will Be Ok to be his best film, but revisiting World of Tomorrow has me reconsidering. To see this at the Music Box, in the large auditorium theater, is a gift. Essential.

World of Tomorrow Episode Two: The Burden of Other People’s Thoughts
(Don Hertzfeldt)

I resisted writing anything about Don Hertzfeldt’s follow-up to World of Tomorrow. To consider a sequel to one of my favorite short films seemed like an impossible task; everything I loved was on the table in Hertzfeldt’s first film. Not that I anticipated a shallow rethread, but rather that, like with so many sequels, the question of necessity tends to hover close overhead. It was a question that lingered close when I first watched Episode Two in late 2017. But revisiting the film in conjunction with World of Tomorrow, I’ve warmed to it considerably. Hertzfeldt takes the original’s universe and expands on its depths though remains loyal to his two characters, Emily and Emily Prime. The experimental flourishes that ornate the film is compounded by his persistent examinations on the passage of time, where the glimmer of hope that defines childhood combats the disappointments of adulthood. But whereas World of Tomorrow often registers as perfectly contained, Episode Two strikes me as a connective tissue to something larger. The World of Tomorrow does not end here. Highly Recommended.