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This is the first of two upcoming MD Film Fest pieces by myself (and possibly more by Josh Sisk). Today, I will tell the tale of the triumphant 10th Anniversary MD Film Fest Opening Shorts program followed by my abrupt shift into the land of joyous superhero excess (aka I saw, and loved, Iron Man at midnite).

After some great intro remarks from Barry Levinson commenting on the evolving nature and role of the movie-going experience, particularly the role of short films/serials, the program launched into the first of 6 short films for the opening night.

Gnatural Wonders

The first short film required those classic blue/red 3-D glasses we all loved/loved-to-hate when we were kids. Things consisted of a ball/swarm of “gnats” making different science-related shapes like the structure of diamond, bucky-tubes and the double-helix. All the while, the director was acting as a sort of sport commentator and narrating the events and various formations with trademark deadpan/flat delivery. Kind of cool images with novelty value, thankfully the film is only 1.5 minutes so the formula didn’t wear too thin.

Doxology

Comedy short consisting of sequences of the director engaged in odd/hilarious looped scenarios often involving tennis balls/daily hygiene. The film was basically showcasing a bunch of stop-motion type effects which I am completely unqualified to assess/describe. Something about 60fps animation in a loop of 7-8 different prepster-garbed clones of the director stoically smacking tennis balls up into the air. The saving grace for the film was a gut-busting sequence where he was doing a tango dance with a large car (Buick? station wagon? not quite sure).

Salim Baba

A romantic meta analysis on the social role, technical details and passion that goes into, essentially, short film making. Set in Kolkata, India, it follows a cinema cart operator named Salim Muhammad; the cart is basically a roaming peepbox, where 2-4 kids/people can kneel down under a curtain and look into a screening box on the cart, where the projector projects a short film. He is the quintessential filmmaker, serving as both projectionist and director, he both engineers and upgrades his own projector and cart as well as creating and editing his own films (spliced together from the remnants of discarded ones). Meticulously shot, every frame and angle is filled with painstaking details that mirror the virtues of the film’s subject. Socioculturally, Salim goes into the role of his brand of cinema as a legacy, a treasured cultural activity that was magical to an older generation who desperately want their children to experience the same thing. All in all a gorgeous film; if you ever get the chance, watch it. You won’t be disappointed.

Help is Coming

Creepy/chilling political commentary on the disaster response. Filmed amid the ruins of post-Katrina New Orleans; the film follows three young children as they tour the warpath of the hurricane. No dialog, only an eerie soundtrack. Their demeanor turns decidedly menacing as they stumble upon 3 masks in a box with “Help is coming” written on the back. They are followed for a bit more, faces shielded so the masks are unrevealed; one sinisterly brandishing a large tree branch. The mask reveal straddles a fine line between hilarity and horror. Some really great, dark humor at work and excellent use of lighting. But the message is rather one-dimensional and preaching-to-the-choir. Still, the way it is phrased is quite effective.

My Olympic Summer

Presented as a sort of autobiographical family history, a Jewish boy tells the story of his parents disintegrating marriage and how it became intertwined with the Munich Olympics tragedy. Using old news reels and a roll of film the director found of his mother on vacation in Amsterdam, he constructs a compelling narrative, a rollercoaster of a romance that hinged on a tragedy for survival. Really fluid editing and storytelling, and an impressively emotional narrative.

Politics of Preschool

You know you are expected to say “Awwww…” and you just can’t help yourself with this film. The director casts her daughter as narrator and protagonist and her son as antagonist in a hilarious and adorable look at just how young we experience the more sordid side of society, namely politics. Concerned with her social status, the girl takes it upon herself to strategize a way for upward mobility and settles on a gimmick, more specifically the best toy ever. When she finds her opponent beat her to the punch, that’s when the politics really start moving. Cute yet highly relevant and profound commentary on the nature of social interactions and politics.

And then, just to really confuse my brain, I dragged myself to a midnight showing of IRON MAN. I am a comics fiend and every trailer with a drunken playboy Downey Jr was just another bell for my inner Pavlov’s dog.

Iron Man


Wow. Robert Downey Jr knocks it out of the park. He portrays a perfect Tony Stark, and Favreau directs the perfect balance between a self-aware, snarkily humorous tone and some brutally realistic superhero gravitas and drama. Special effects are, as expected, fantastic. I saw a few early impressions channeling comparisons to Batman Begins, but I don’t see it. As expected from the source material, the conflicts derive from the nature of economy and corporate culture, war profiteering and some broadly abstracted politics all coming to a head in Tony Stark’s moral revelation and the fallout. Efficiently executed but hardly what I would call artistic or nuanced. Iron Man isn’t trying to be Batman Begins, and frankly doesn’t want to; it’s perfectly happy being itself: a rollicking superhero flick packed with spectacular effects, visceral action and some spot-on casting and performances (despite my always hearing “The Dude abides…” in my head). A great start to the blockbuster summer movie season. I didn’t even give a damn that the plot wasn’t culled from one of Iron Man’s lengthy comics canon. Stay for the end of credits reveal if you an extra geeky comics kid that enjoys the Ultimate Marvel universe.

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