Photo by Sarah Palmer
The short film can be a tricky format to master. It does offer new and/or broke filmmakers a fiscally realistic creative outlet; but, too much ambition or too little substance and it makes the audience wish the short was a whole lot shorter. No matter the style or the subject, the key to the mini-film is focus, focus, focus.
Brooklyn's Rooftop Films have their lenses focused on exposing directors who are long on talent but short on screen time. The group has been screening underground short films on Brooklyn rooftops and abroad since 1997. Last Thursday, they crossed the border, eschewed the rooftops and braved the dregs of winter to screen fourteen choice shorts at Montreal's Société des arts technologiques. The mix of documentary, animation and live action wooed the mid-size audience that had ventured through the loathsome cold to indulge in the short and sweet visual buffet. The night was void of pretension; the audience lounged, intermittently laughed and gasped, eyes glued to the two huge screens at right angles in front of them.
There were standouts. The multiple-award-winning The Perpetual Life of Jim Albers, by Matt Goldman, presented an engrossing take on a day in the life of a scrawny and seriously anxious office worker. In his dreams, he is meditative and calm, but he emerges from sleep to an arsenal of pill bottles on his nightstand. Dirty subway poles, a hypersexed co-worker and a hot dog are just a few of the elements that drive him out of his mind until, finally, he passes out. He imagines himself as a homunculus looking down upon the earth, only to come to and repeat the whole process the next day. Goodman uses a well-deployed mix of animation, text, camera movements and a variegated editing tempo to pace the viewer through the enduring fear of the unfortunate Albers.
The simplicity of Pay Roll, by Noah Klersfeld, hid the ageless dilemma of fate vs. free will. Average footage of a New York intersection, shot from three different angles, is made captivating thanks to a disembodied director barking commands at the public. The mundane acts of a man wiping sweat off his brow, a woman adjusting her shoulder bag and a fleet of yellow New York cabs rolling through an intersection become absurdly funny as each executes their "roles" with perfect timing. While the film could be considered the fulfillment of Klersfeld's God complex (if he has one, that is), it also questions the balance between independent action and action stimulated by the forces of those around us.
The variation in length and type of mini-film kept the program captivating. The thirteen-minute documentary A Good Uplift, by Faye Lederman, Cheryl Furjanic and Eve Lederman, turned its eye on long-time bra specialist and feisty senior citizen Magda Bergstein. Bike Thief showed just how easy it was to steal a bike in the middle of rush hour in New York. Created by the Neistat brothers, best known for their iPod's Dirty Secret short, Bike Thief is another instalment in their continued quest to make blunt and thought-provoking social commentaries on a shoestring budget.
Brooklyn's Rooftop Films: Coming soon to an impromptu rooftop theatre near you. (Photo by Sarah Palmer.)
The animation in Sub, by Jesse Schmal, was simple and perfectly suited to the absurd story. A miniature-submarine crew tries to save its captain as a soccer team scrimmages with a team of nuns, a snobby French pup turns his nose up at haute cuisine and a group of Eurotrash lug nuts back their leader as he gruffly tries to woo an unimpressed femme fatale. It was clear the heavy symbolism pointed to a complex history (apparently a metaphor for the decline of the Soviet Empire), but you didn't need to recognize Schmal's source of inspiration to get into the abstract yet coherent whimsy of the flick.
Some films were less enjoyable than others. Fischerchicks, by Susan Buice and Arin Crumley, featured Buice dancing with a light bulb and small, poorly drawn (bird) chicks gyrating to a pumping Fischerspooner track. If Filibuster, by Matt Lenski, had been any longer, the idea of Richard Simmons sweatin' to a Sonic Youth oldie would have been just too much. Although beautiful, the ten-minute closer The Light, by Brian Doyle, wasn't able to keep many from reaching for their coats.
All told, the lineup was well chosen, with short films that displayed a hearty sense of creativity and focus on the part of directors and series organizers. Although we weren't in Brooklyn or on a rooftop and winter raged quietly outside, this was a welcome display of what is yet to come-Rooftop Films' ninth annual Summer Series. Brooklyn can cross my border any time.
Melissa Wheeler writes for The Hour and Exclaim Magazine when not hustling at CJAD 800 AM.
Rooftop Films is currently accepting film submissions for their 2005 summer series, to take place in New York City, and possibly Montreal and various other international locations. See www.rooftopfilms.com for further information.
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