Experimental Shorts Highlights-NOFF 2018
Miniflix staff and guest writer Caleb Adams choose their favorite experimental short films from this year’s festival.
As the 2018 New Orleans Film Festival comes to a close…the Miniflix staff looks back at all the great short films screened over the last 9 days.
The experimental and late night short films series champion those type of short films that typically can’t find a home anywhere else. They’re either too abstract or unconventional for a narrative series, too otherworldly to be taken as straight documentary and too real to be considered animated. There were many staggering works of genius, and we settle with a half dozen we thought stood above the pack.
Hi I Need To Be Loved — directed by Marnie Ellen Hertzler
The logline of the short asks this question: “Is this poetry or malware?” And somehow, this perfectly summarizes the film’s objective. I Need To Be Loved takes place on a film set, where we watch the director coach actors to say lines taken from spam emails in a way that is unconventional and cinematic. Most of the time, it turns into side-splitting and hilarious scenarios.
But before the joke wears thin on this 10 minute running time, Hertzler and crew take the film out of the film set and into some pretty surprising locales and situations. In all, the film feels like one big attempt at keeping you on your toes and keeping you laughing. You will honestly not be able to guess what happens next. Yet the most impressive part of Need To Be Loved is in how every seemingly bonkers choice never feels unearned or disrespectful to the audience. Simply put, this experimental short just works. And sometimes that’s all you need it to do.
Hair Wolf-directed by Mariama Diallo
Successfully mixing genre fun with social commentary, Hair Wolf is everything a horror/comedy should aspire to. Stylistically the film serves as an homage to low budget 70s/80s horror movies and director Mariama Diallo captures the heightened aesthetic perfectly. However, the film has more on its mind, using the setup to deal with the topics of cultural appropriation and white-washing. The majority of the action takes place in a black hair salon located in Brooklyn, where four friends try to avoid a monster. The monster? Zombie-like white women appropriating black culture. As the night progresses, our four protagonists must try to resist having their culture sucked away by this vampiric threat.
The most common comparison most audiences will make is Get Out, last year’s Oscar winning horror/comedy that also dealt with many of the same issues brought up here. Similar to that film, Hair Wolf succeeds due to its terrific leads and Diallo’s sharp writing. The main character “Eve” is played by Kara Young who gives an excellent and funny performance. The cast is rounded out by Good Time’s Taliah Webster and Jermaine Crawford who played Dukie Weems in the last two seasons of The Wire. The most chilling performance comes from Madeline Weinstein who plays the zombie-like white girl that perfectly captures a cold, dead-like perfectionism for her character. The film manages to balance all of its moving pieces almost effortlessly. The comedy always manages to hit, the horror elements are both fun and creepy, and the director remains committed to the heightened reality that her story takes place in. As the short closes you’ll find yourself wishing for more. Hair Wolf is an absolute triumph of style and substance; I can’t wait to see what these filmmakers do next.
Giverny I (NÉGRESSE IMPÉRIALE) — directed by Ja‘Tovia M. Gary
Easily the most haunting short in any category this year, Giverny I mixes art with history and contemporary events to put us directly into the perspective of the persecuted and victimized in the current age of police violence. The film itself takes place in Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny, but quickly starts to decompose and fragment as the film cuts to archival audio and video footage. Eventually, the centerpiece of this experimental short is revealed to be a police shooting incident that was captured on film and audio. As the film winds along, things continue to unravel, including horrifying mashups of past and present.
Very few filmic experiences will make you feel as vulnerable and exposed as Giverny I and rightly so. Gary’s past work has always been interested in the history of oppression and exploitation against minority voices and lives. As one sees in the final product of this latest short, social justice issues go deeper than intellectual debate and legislation…it’s literally a matter of flesh of blood.
Steve’s Kinkoes-directed by Emma Debany
In a sea of darkness, one flickering street light is the only source of illumination. Lying under it is a dead cat with a sad man standing over it; in his hand is a missing poster for said cat. The man turns to see something else in the distant darkness: a 24/7 photocopy shop. This opening sets the stage for a surreal, Lynchian horror short that both entertains and baffles. The film is less concerned with providing any kind of answer and more with providing a Twilight-Zone experience. From a creepy smiling, photocopy clerk to disturbing uses for copiers, the entire tone of the film is designed to make you uneasy and on edge. Despite these more disturbing elements, director Emma Debany never passes up the opportunity for dark humor. She fully embraces the absurdity of her premise to the film’s benefit. Steve’s Kinkoes is a treat for anyone who enjoys surreal horror mixed with dark comedy.
Armadeggon 2 — directed by Corey Hughes
Another humorous and very unconventional look at the absurdity of everyday life, director Corey Hughes takes us to modern-day Cuba, where the black market of media distribution is quite advanced. The title itself references a combination of Armageddon and Spider Man 2, the main character’s two favorite movies. While one can find deeper socio-economic undercurrents if they so choose, this short really works as a piece of absurdist humor. The main characters accuses a pet chicken of stealing bananas, there’s the aforementioned callback to late 90s, early 2000s blockbuster cinema, as well as other surprises.
Something that really caught our eye, besides the subject matter, was in how well-shot the short is. Hughes revealed that the film was only shot on location because he had been visiting there, yet the camera captures this very specific space as if he were a local. The world feels fully-realized, even when the narrative elements act more like good sketch comedy.
Allen Anders: Live at the Comedy Castle (Circa 1987)-directed by Laura Moss
Allen Anders is either having the best set of his life or is trapped in a nightmarish cycle of agony. Filmed to resemble a VHS recording of a low-level comedy special, “Allen Anders” is a surreal trip into existential dread. The comedian himself is trapped in a comedy routine that starts about a case of the “Mondays” and quickly turns dark spiraling into a painful monologue about the certainty of death and the futility of life. The response is laughter: repeated laughter. Just as Anders is trapped in his loop, so are the people around him. The director loops the footage of the same few people having the exact same reaction repeatedly to every joke.
The routine descends more and more into what is close to a cry for help than a comedy routine. The experience is one that manages to be just as disturbing as it is funny. Tony Grayson plays the titular Allen Anders and does an excellent job mixing both the comedy and tragedy from his character and situation. The film asks where the line between pain and comedy truly is and if they, at times, can be indistinguishable from each other. Filmmaker Laura Moss knocks it out of the park, making performance out of suffering and trapping the audience in the same fractured mindset as her protagonist.