Shorts Program I
The Chicago Critics Film Festival hosts two shorts programs throughout its week-long run. The following covers their shorts programming scheduled for Saturday, May 18 starting at 1pm. Filmmakers Raed Alsemari (Dunya’s Day), Amy Bench (A Line Birds Cannot See), Christopher Good (Crude Oil), Will Goss (Sweet Steel), Alex Kavutskiy (Squirrel) and Geoff Marslett (The Phantom 52) are scheduled to be in attendance for a Q&A.
Everything You Wanted to Know About Sudden Birth* (*but were afraid to ask)
This is a deep dive into the world of instructional videos brings filmmaker Scott Calonico to the Los Angeles Police Departments’ training video on “Sudden Birth”, where officers are instructed on how to deliver a child in the back seat of a car. Calonico does an efficient job of examining the origins of the instructional film and the various actors and crew associated with the project, but this curiosity strains – painfully – toward unearned existentialism.
This sizzle reel masquerading as a short is a ludicrously affected mess; a stylized vision of a woman leaving a toxic friendship only to harness the world’s most useless superpower. Everything about Crude Oil is terribly false in an effort that’s just divorced from anything suggesting good taste.
An interesting experiment, whereupon a disabled woman is confronted by the driver that put her in a wheelchair. Following a flaccid apology, the two form an unlikely bond built on guilt and escape. Alex Kavutskiy’s debt to Jerry Zucker’s Rat Race is an unexpected twist, along with where the film goes from there. Kavutskiy has a thoughtful sense of humor and I’d like to see more from him. Noteworthy.
Visually pleasant but narratively unsophisticated, Raed Alsemari’s Dunya’s Day doesn’t offer much beyond surface level pleasures. The craft on display is notably sharp, with certain compositions demanding attention. But the film’s meager plotting – a graduation party planning committee falling apart – doesn’t provide anything substantive to think about.
The Phantom 52
This animated short involving a lonely trucker driving down a highway, pleading with anyone over his CB radio to keep him company, is thoughtfully rendered. From ghosts to whale cries, Geoff Marslett’s short captures a deserted sense of isolation on the lonely road. The depths into abstraction are especially provocative, even if the animation style can seem a bit too hurried and compressed for my taste. Noteworthy.
A Line Birds Cannot See
A very personal and prescient story about a young girl that attempts to cross the U.S/Mexico border, only to be abandoned by her guide and subsequently kidnapped, is simply too heavy-handed and simplistic to ever amount to anything introspective. With its utilitarian animation style and enclosed narrative (it’s too vague on fundamentally important questions on the whys and whences of the situation), you’re left with a film that demands, rather than earns, your empathy.
This simple but remarkably proactive short sees a man prepare for his suicide. As is often the case with the encased and suicidal, this highlights the procedural elements associated with crossing the threshold from light to dark. As quick and painless as you’d hope it to be, you often find yourself making ridiculous gestures to make the transition as seamless and comfortable as possible. Filmmaker Will Goss bypasses any need for explanation here. Instead, we don’t get the story – we get the point. Recommended
We end on a high note with Nara Normande’s Guaxuma. This animated short about a young woman reminiscing about her best friend on the beaches of Brazil is a formal delight. The blend of animation styles, from stop-motion clay figurines to the use of still photographs akin to La Jetée is a persuasive exercise that genuinely feels like a cathartic moment for its filmmaker. It’s an epiphany, an acknowledgment that moments of loss accelerate the feeling that you are neither home nor in transit to your destination but simply in stasis. Highly Recommended