The DC Shorts Film Festival kicks off tonight with screenings at E Street Cinema. It’ll continue for the next ten day with additional screenings at the United States Navy Memorial. 131 shorts from 33 countries will be screened and it’s damn near impossible to see them all in the theater. Each show (all shows feature 7-9 shorts that add up to roughly 90 minutes) has at least one short we think you should see. We’re going to highlight those must-sees.
One of the best aspects of D.C. Shorts is the glimpse into multiple varieties of life. This year we enjoyed trips to Japan, Mexico, France and animal heavan. We liked true stories, fictional tales and documentaries. Drawn, acted and some in between, this year’s fest is a healthy, diverse selection of films from around the world.
The Shining Star of Losers Everywhere
It’ll be hard to top this one. A documentary about a loser horse at a struggling, small city Japanese track, this award winner is a mix of news footage, animation and on camera interviews. It’s also an ESPN short film, so you know it’s quality. I have no interest in horse racing and it’s my favorite film of the fest.
Holy shit. I have so many things to say about Pickle. The illustrations are great, the subject is fantastic, and the interviews are weirdly captivating. The film focuses on a couple telling stories about all the animals they’ve owner (and there are many) who have died and how they died. I know that just sounds gruesome and sad, and it is a little gruesome and sad, but the directors have managed to add levity in a way that just makes it feel fun and funny and only a little bit weird. It doesn’t hurt that you can tell throughout the entire film that those animals were truly loved. It made me want to hug my mean as hell cat.
Explosions can be funny. The third showcase in the festival isn’t very fun. “War and Peace” is full of films about war and peace. Not a lot of laughs. An old, married couple looking for a time capsule on a mine field has some laughs.
Explosions can be funny.
When you’re reviewing so many films in a small period of time, the boisterous ones tend to stick out in your mind and then make it onto lists like these. After all, if a short can stand out from 40 others, that usually means there’s something of merit. Something worth talking about, which is why I’m surprised that I can’t get this quiet little family drama Wildfire out of my head. It centers around a man and his multiple wives, who decide not to move out of their house even though a wildfire is approaching. It’s haunting, and while you’re immediate thoughts are to hate the husband, the directors did an amazing job at humanizing him in just a few minutes. It’s more complicated than most shorts dare to get. And I just can’t get it out of my mind.
I did not expect to like this. A longer short film (I realize the oxymoron) that tackles aging and body modification. A couple together 45 years is planning for surgery that’ll make them 45 years younger. Hers works. His is yet to come. The film has no clear ending and it doesn’t matter. It works well at its time and like the best short films in this fest, leaves the viewer wishing for a little more.
Oh man. I did not see any part of this short coming and I loved every minute of it. It’s an incredibly short short, while most of these films hit 10+ minutes, this one doesn’t come close, but it’s a rollercoaster ride from beginning to end. While some of the films in this category went serious, or sad, or weird this is a great mixture of hilarious and deeply uncomfortable. I actually gasped out loud at work while watching it, that’s how much it captivated me.
This is my fourth year watching and reviewing DC Shorts. Every year the best films are animated. Whether documentary, musical, first-person narrative, experimental, LGBT-friendly or for kids, animated works are the best. My guess is it’s because animation takes longer to produce than anything shot on camera. Air-Mail is a beautiful, inventive word-less short incorporating sport, love, cats, birds and a fish. It can connect to every age group without pandering to any. The exact kind of film you want to see at a fest.
For a short film, Leche juggles a lot of complex topics, from race, to schoolyard bullies and a bunch of stuff in between. What saves it from being bogged down is the simplicity of the plot, it’s a couple days in the life of an albino girl who is struggling to fit in. What really makes this film stand out, is it’s cinematography. Some moments are more claustrophobic and belittling, while others have almost a surreal, out of this world tinge. Whether you relate with the film or not, it’s certainly beautiful.
I don’t actively think of identical twins. My high school friend and bandmate is an identical twin. I played in Little League with a twin. Once you get to know these guys you don’t really think of them as twins. But they are. And it’s informed who they are more than bands or baseball ever could. Her & Me is about identical twins about to graduate college. Mixed in with on camera interviews with other twins (think of the older, cute couples in When Harry Met Sally), our protagonists receive advice about living a post-college twin life.
This could easily be fleshed out into a feature length film and still keep an audience’s attention. Identical twins are fascinating. A fascinating subject doesn’t hurt when garnering attraction.
Quiet, hypnotic, and sad as hell, Stay Awake pulls you in right away and leaves you wondering for a good chunk of the movie. Little of the plot is explained, the director really relies on your ability to infer thing, but it’s moodiness is what really struck me. Everything is dark, atmospheric, and like I said before, pretty damn sad. The moments of brevity are few and far between, but when they do pop it, it does little to lighten the mood.
I want a feature length documentary on the lives of luchadoras. Wrestling is enjoying a well-deserved resurgence and while there’s an entire network to scratch that itch, there’s hardly any coverage on women’s wrestling out of Mexico. This short leaves the viewer wanting more. So please give us more.
A short and a sweet glimpse into the life of a human bullet. All shot in a low contrast black and white, the film is a sobering look at the toll this kind of work can take, without becoming overly dreary. Our subject’s family comes from a long line of circus and carnival workers and seeing his love and passion for a hobby that has on occasion, really hurt him, is kind of heartwarming. The vintage flourishes are just icing on the cake.
This one snuck up on me. I’m not a fan of younger people complaining and it’s very easy and common to complain about housing in an expensive city. But this French short is more than a comment on housing. It morphs from sci-fi to buddy comedy to urban thriller with ease. People that live in group homes should love it.
Horror documentaries hold a special place in my heart, so it’s not a surprise I was particularly attached to this doc. It follows the story of the couple who purchased a murder house in Sacramento. Dorothea Puente, the home’s original owner killed seven people and buried them in the backyard. The couple who bought it however, love their home and don’t really care what the community think. It’s a fun (and only a little sad) look into how you can use humor to move on from horrendous crimes.
If you don’t believe that all the Mexicans are sending all their rapists and all their criminals easily over the border, and even if you do think that, you may still enjoy El Coyote. The animated interview is a smart way to explain a complicated issue.
Spotlight: Technology Addiction
Great idea! We carry the ratings we’ve received online above our heads. Most people have 5 stars but some don’t. Matriach Maggie only has 2-and-a-half stars. An excellent look at a rated society, especially if you’re too afraid to give a bad AirBNB review to someone that deserves a bad AirBNB review but you’re too afraid to write anything because you don’t want to be that person and it goes both ways. The film pulls its punches at the end, but that’s OK. It’s fiction. It’s possible to change in a film. It’s not possible to ever change an AirBNB review. Those will die with you.
Spotlight: LGBT Shorts
“Don’t sneak. Or you’ll ruin your immortal soul.” That’s what Pat Haggerty’s dad told him as a child. As an adult, Haggerty was the frontman and songwriter for a gay country band. One of the songs on their album was “These C*cksucking Tears.” It’s a good song. 40 years after that record’s release, Haggerty is revisiting what he wrote as a younger man.
We thought ** Spoilers ** was going to be the pick of the showcase. It’s a really cute film that looks better than nearly every other film in this year’s fest. But These C*cksucking Tears is too good not to be the pick.
This deserves to be a full length film. The surface has barely been scratched.
Spotlight: Animation Showcase
The best showcase. We’re going with Carlo since it could be enjoyed regardless of language, highly stylized and makes up its own world within a world. There are other beautiful and ambitious shorts in this spotlight, but Carlo, even with it’s possibly sexist tropes, hits the most right notes. I want to see more from these filmmakers.
Spotlight: Family Showcase
Wow, this is a heavy one that sneaks up on you. Since you’re probably not going to attend this one since you’re reading BYT, I’ll spoil it.
Sheep die. Young sheep die. They don’t all get into heaven.
How is this a kids film? It looks like a kids film but wow, it is not a kids film. Kudos to the filmmakers for sneaking a wolf in sheep’s clothing into this film fest.
I’d like to mention Moom, another extremely ambitious kids film that’s the most adorable of the bunch. If Harry on the Clouds didn’t surprise me so much, this would be the pick. It’s a better film but Harry is heavier so it gets my vote.
This is the second best showcase of the fest.
The odd numbered shows and spotlights shows reviewed by Brandon Wetherbee, even numbered shows reviewed by Kaylee Dugan