DC Shorts Preview
Brandon Wetherbee | kaylee | Sep 8, 2017 | 9:00AM |

We watched over 170 short films from 31 countries to preview this year’s DC Shorts fest. It was great. These are some of our favorites.

DC Shorts is a well-curated, well-executed short film festival that brings the world to D.C. (mostly E Street Cinema) every September. This year’s entries are no different than that last. The quality remains and the stories are still varied. From documentary to drama, animated to live action, English to ASL, we absorbed all of it. There are highlights in each program. That’s what this feature is. Our favorite short from each program. Some programs are better than others (Showcase 4 is really strong) and the films that make up the numbered showcases also make up the themed showcases.

Showcase 1

Intruder Man

I can’t tell if I liked this film, or if it was such a strange mish mash of genre and tone that I can’t stop thinking about it. Loosely based off the life of the directors grandmother, Intruder Man tells the tale of a woman grappling with Alzheimer’s. She lives in her bathroom because she imagines an intruder man breaking into her home. There’s also flashbacks to her raising her children and working as a Home Ec teacher. There’s also a lot of singing. Like way more singing than you’d expect. Similarly, the stop motion can go from terrifying to adorable at a moment’s notice. It’s kind of great.

Also screens as part of the Animation Domination program

Showcase 2

All Skate, Everybody Skate

Doris lives in a time warp, next door to a post office/roller skating rink that’s she’s run for 50 years in a tourist town, Topsail Beach, North Carolina. She’s married to a man that took her roller skating 60 years ago. She’s the mother of a son that died too young. She’s the perfect protagonist for a short film. The 19 minute film is mostly made from Doris’ voice over. Director Nicole Triche does a great job using still images and newly shot footage of the town over Doris’ voice overs. It could be a segment on This American Life but presented this way is much more satisfying. The line, “When I get to 125 I may retire, but I’ll still be skating,” is all you need to know about Doris.

Also screens as part of The Real Reel program

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Showcase 3

My Nephew Emmett

Beautiful, haunting, devastating. It’s the captivating story of the days before Emmett Till was murdered, told from the point of view of his uncle, Mose Wright. A narrative film with a gut punch documentary ending, the slow and silent imagery in the film builds up to a fever pitch you can’t shake out of your brain.

Also screens as part of African American Short Films program

Showcase 4

Make Them Believe

Pro wrestling is all about making your own narrative. It’s an amalgamation of theatre and sport. It thrives in the USA. It does not thrive in Moscow. There are “Russian” characters in the WWE and have been in WCW, WWF, etc. all. But they weren’t and aren’t Russian. Most come from Minnesota.

Wrestler American Hope is actually Russian. And because he’s playing American Hope in Russia, he’s a villain. Timofei Malteser is a scrawny, good looking young man, the kind you’re more likely to see at a concert at Black Cat than in a ring (kudos to the film maker for having Fugazi’s Brendan Canty score the film).

Make Them Believe is a good way to introduce the reality of the sport to an unfamiliar audience. Director Taimi Arvidson doesn’t get too in the weeds about the sport or desires of the wrestlers. Instead, she uses broad strokes in a short amount of time to highlight the highs and lows of the performers.

This is particularly strong program. Ruby Full of Shit is a great comedy from France that embraces multiple, whimsical camera techniques and Anyone Like Me about Gallaudet football coach Shelby Bean is the kind of sports documentary that you want to see get the 30 for 30 treatment.

Showcase 5

Ode To Lesvos

Part paradise, part nightmare, this doc tells the story of Amelia Kamvisi, Stratis Valamios and Thanassis Marmarinos, three people from the Greek island of Lesvos nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize after assisting refugees. Some families fleeing conditions in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan find themselves stuck on right off the coast of Lesvos in tiny ill fit boats, and the local community has not only taken everyone in, but has saved countless lives. Beautifully shot and uplifting as hell, Ode To Lesvos combines beautiful shots of the picturesque Greek island with horrifying tales that (thankfully) include some happy endings.

Also screens as part of The Real Reel program

Showcase 6

Unknown

This is not an unknown story. It’s about a band that busks. This band is in D.C. and performs will full gear: bass, guitar, drums, amps, PA, everything. The reason is works is The Unknowns’ charisma. Lead singer Kenny Sway has charisma. He’s easy to like when you see him perform. Director Katie Sharidan has made him even more likable. This is the kind of short that should lead to a local news segment which leads to Kenny Sway finally making it to The Voice (he’s tried out three times). If that doesn’t happen, that’s fine. The Unknowns can play and are building a mythology.

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Showcase 7

The Final Show

It’s wacky as hell. There’s no better way to describe The Final Show. Set right before (and after) the death of Betty, The Final Show follows her into the afterlife. She sees both of her deceased husbands, a man she dated in high school, and most importantly, her best friend. While this short could have painted this as a sad, melancholy experience, it’s bursting with humor. If the Golden Girls followed Dorothy, Sophia, Blanche and Rose into the afterlife, it would look just like this.

Also screens as part of the ROTFLMAO (Comedy Shorts…DUH!) program

Showcase 8

Game

Sure, you know where this is going to end once it begins but so what? It’s well acted, edited and shot. It doesn’t need to be a feature length film but might make for an interesting television series. I’m keeping it vague so it doesn’t ruin your viewing. I will say Nicole Williams was a well-cast lead and film maker Jeannie Donohue made a sports film for more than sports fans.

Also screens as part of African American Short Films program

Showcase 9

Close To U

This is my third year watching and reviewing the DC Shorts film festival, and it’s getting harder and harder to narrow it down to one film from each category. People have really put in their all this year. I don’t want to pick just one, but I will. Close To U edged out other favorites from this showcase like Andrew and When Pigs Fly, because it manages to do a little bit of everything. It captures small, human stories while managing to touch on incredibly large themes like history and gentrification. More than anything, this doc does a great job at giving people a platform to talk about their passions, not matter how singular and there’s nothing I love more than watching people talk about their passion projects. We try to do that everyday at BYT and shorts like this inspire me to do a better job at it.

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Showcase 10

Departure

It’s a slow film that doesn’t feel slow. Not a lot of dialogue, a few minutes of exposition (which is quite a bit considering it’s only 17 minutes long) and only three actors, Departure takes advantage of its medium. This would not work as a short story or play. It needs to be a film. Did I enjoy it more because it’s in Japanese? I think so. Having to read captions slowed down my brain, which was good for Departure.

Showcase 11

Rufus

When it comes to shorts, I find myself gravitating towards the incredibly serious and the very lighthearted, lucky for you, this is the latter. Rufus is the story of an anxiety ridden Jane who is left in charge of her boss’s dog for the week. Although he’s a beautiful golden retriever, Rufus has cancer and diabetes and a whole other host of problems. I think you can see where this is going. It’s not hilarious, nor is it especially uplifting, but it is a fun little jaunt with a weirdly good cast of characters (Becky Ann Baker!) and a great soundtrack.

Also screens as part of the ROTFLMAO (Comedy Shorts…DUH!) program

Showcase 12

Hell You Talmbout

More music video than narrative short, the film featuring Seattle’s Northwest Tap Connection utilizes the names of unarmed black lives murdered by police. It says their names. It’s effective. Clocking in at 8 minutes, it doesn’t overstate the obvious. The length strengthens the message. The art strengthens the message.

Also screens as part of the African American Short Films

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Showcase 13

My Irnik

Again, we have a captivating short that focuses on capturing a specific passion, but My Irnik is more than that. It’s a love letter to family and tradition, it’s a reminder to follow your heart and it’s one of the most beautiful shorts I’ve ever seen. If a movie can make me feel like I’m in the place, doing the thing, it’s successful. This doc definitely manages to do that. From the gorgeous wide landscape shots to the small details, like snow blowing in the wind, it captures Arctic Canada so well. It also has sort of a Dear Zachary vibe, but with a far more happy ending. This movie might make you cry, but it’ll be in a good way.

Also screens as part of the O Canada: Happy 150th Birthday To You program

Showcase 14

Demonoid (1971)

What a great idea! A dubbed film set purported to be from 1971! Demons! An eclipse! Funky music! A young guy smoking a pipe! Bloodletting! Lightning special effects! Scenes shot for 3D glasses! It has all the great stuff from bad B films about satanic rituals and horny teens. It’s camp that knows its camp that actually succeeds as sincere camp. That’s incredibly difficult to pull off. We watch a lot of shorts that try to pull this off and most don’t come close. Demonoid 1971 is a feat. It most likely won’t win any prizes because it’s not a ‘serious’ film but I’d rather have fun at a fest.

Showcase 15

The Real Thing

The Real Thing is nearly guaranteed to make you cry happy tears. Director Brandon Kelley deals with two complicated issues (the military and transgender rights) so delicately and beautifully. The outcome was so much better than I could have ever expected, I am crying in the office.

Also screens as part of GLBTQ Shorts

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Showcase 16

Pebbles

Pebbles solidified a couple of concepts for me. First, love is a myth. Second, men are trash. In spite of having a couple of questions answered, I still have so many. If Wes Anderson ever made a 15 minute short, it would probably be something exactly like this. Lots of rain, primary colors in different shades, vintage looking furniture, you know, the usual Wes Anderson stuff.

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Showcase 17

Playing House

At just over two minutes long, this seemingly sweet short offers a glimpse at how impressionable children are. I’m not even a parent, and Playing House makes me fully realize my impact on children. It reminded me of the animated shorts during movie previews in the theatre, but with a sinister adult twist.

Also screens as part of Animation Domination