SLAMDANCE 2021: THE SHORT BIGS COMPENDIUM

The collection of short reviews for longer, less-weird films.

Slamdance’s entire slate, shorts and features, can be watched online through February 25 for a $10 pass, $5 for students.

Hurrah, We Are Still Alive! (Hura, wciaz zyjemy!; dir. Agnieszka Polska)—Troupe of film actors is adrift and its mysterious director is mysteriously missing and…yawnnnnn. Mm, excuse me. The only way I could potentially pitch this high mumble-drama as exciting would be to provide a couple of out of context remarks like, “Dirk picks up a cat and walks through a cowboy gauntlet”, or “Dirk threatens an exotic fish.” This is the kind of movie that gets a super-solid 5/10, because it is technically well made, technically tells a story, and was technically watchable all the way through. It features pseudo-mysterious plottings, a terrorist organization, an actress with a wig that’s more boyish than her slightly less-boyish actual hairstyle, a semi-charismatic hitman, and, exotic for a New York viewer, smoking inside a disco. (This club, however, is one of the saddest party places I’ve ever seen.) It probably didn’t help that the film burns out its only energy with the exclamation mark in the title.

The Little Broomstick Rider (dir. Matteo Bernardini)—For those of you who want to experience the simple-sophisticated joys of “gekkimation” but don’t want to endure the stomach-turning creativity of more graphic fare, I highly recommend Bernardini’s charming yarn about a 9-year-old boy accused of witchcraft in early 17th-century Bavaria. Darling and detailed drawings for characters and settings, snappy and silly signs for dialogue and exposition, and flute and fife for a rousing soundtrack. Unlike myself, Matteo Bernardini did something productive during his Covid quarantine. (Not to insult my profession, mind you; but one of the perks of being a reviewer is you get a front-row view of talented people. [Not that reviewers aren’t talented people, just… ah, to heck with it. Watch The Little Broomstick Rider!].)

Taipei Suicide Story (安眠旅舍; dir. KEFF)—Well, this was probably the saddest romantic comedy I’ve ever seen, though at least the title prepared me for it. In the greater Taipei area, sometime now-ish, is a discreet little hotel where the guests are allowed only one night’s stay. This typically isn’t problematic, as the facility specializes in giving people a place (and limited assistance) to kill themselves. Zhi-Hao is a young man, and world-weary, which is something to be expected of a concierge at a suicide hotel. And unfortunately for him, he discovers that a shirker has been staying at the hotel for at least a week. He forthwith enters her room and chews her out. Of course, this being a romantic comedy (of sorts), they ultimately hit it off. After he advises he can allow her one more night, they end up spending a fair amount of that evening together.

The mundane realities of the “suicide hotel” premise are efficiently addressed in the opening montage. Cleaners in hazmat suits clear out “occupied” rooms the next morning; supervisors chide their underlings about clocking in correctly; a ceremonial bell is rung as the guests’ remains are gurneyed  out. But to zip back to my “efficient” remark, I was particularly impressed at the filmmakers’ decision to tell this story in their own time. At three-quarters of an hour, Taipei Suicide Story is too long for a standard short, and too short for a standard long. Almost as bold a choice as the film’s subject, this fidelity to the proper run-time for the story is a sterling example for other directors to follow.

Bad Attitude: the Art of Spain Rodriguez (dir. Susan Stern)—At the film’s mid-point, Susan Stern (Rodriguez’s widow) poses the question, “Did I make this film to defend Spain, or defend myself?” I had no idea who Rodriguez was until this movie, but when you have luminaries like Art Spiegelman and Robert Crumb (as well as Fugs-man Ken Weaver) taking time to praise you, then you must have been significant, and perhaps in need of a little defense. Spain was brash, in-your-face arrogant, but also compelling, humane, and talented enough to justify all his faults. And without him, modern comics wouldn’t have been the same.

I found myself strangely moved by the end of this. Sure sure, it’s a “talking-heads-and-old-footage” affair (liberally dosed with animated comics scenes). But I was reminded what a tragedy death can be, particularly when a talented and influential font of skill and knowledge is struck down. So for that, I give Stern and her team extra credit. I’ve seen plenty of these kinds of documentaries by now, but I’d argue few are as important to give a look as this one.

A Brixton Tale (dir. Darragh Carey, Bertrand Desrochers)—Any plot summary that includes the word “YouTuber” immediately makes me think of potatoes. I like potatoes, but their only positive connotation involving people is the team of “spud boys” who make up Devo.  (Or, maybe, Mr Potato Head. He’s an all right guy.) Leaning heavily into some buzzwords like “social realism” and “race relations” and “Brixton”, Carey and Desrochers have made Something For The Kids (kids in this case, Millennials and Zedennials). The directors prove they can make a movie,  actors Lily Newmark and Ola Orebiyi prove they can make a movie, so one is left to wonder, Why did they make this movie?

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