The air-conditioned sanctuary of a movie theatre on a scorching day is a welcome retreat and few theatres can provide the respite of the Camelot Theatres in Palm Springs, where their 13th annual International Festival of Short Films just concluded. As with the city’s feature film festival in January, this annual event grows ever year, hitting a fever pitch in the 108 degree weather with 332 films, among them 73 world premieres from over 40 countries.
The Pearce Sisters (UK. Luis Cook. 10 min.)
Aardman Studios, which brought the loveable Creature Comforts and Wallace and Grommit to life, has taken a startling turn for the weird with this twisted gem. Two rather unpleasant looking sisters, living alone on a windswept shore, find a man while fishing and they eventually treat him no better than the catch of the day. Per the picture above, thank Heaven for animation that would rather be iconoclastic than cute.
The Girl Who Swallowed Bees (Australia. Paul McDermott. 9 min.)
A fable of a suicidal girl who decides to ingest bees and instead finds nirvana, this mix of animation and live action is utterly gorgeous. Hugo Weaving (The Matrix) narrates the tale and in addition to McDermott’s impeccable direction, one must provide kudos to director of photography Justine Kerrigan and art director Rebecca O’Brien. This spellbinding short is a perfect example of the enchantment provided by top-flight animation.
Centigrade (Canada. Colin Cunningham. 15 min.)
Colin Cunningham proves himself a highly imaginative and powerful filmmaker with this tale of a single father who beats his son and suddenly finds himself alone, trapped in his trailer, towed by an unseen driver to an unpredictable punishment for his sins. The intensity of Cunningham’s performance, as well as his use of unique angles and overwhelmingly powerful music, make this a ride that is etched firmly in one’s memory.
I Hate Musicals (USA. Stewart Schill. 20 min.)
Winner of the Audience Live Action award, I Hate Musicals humorously shows a comeuppance for a self-involved insurance exec named, er, Brad, who has no interest in the musical his wife is in. But he sure gets interested fast when he finds that every time he tries to talk, it comes out in song with musical accompaniment. Schill and his collaborators not only have a hilarious musical theatre presentation in a corporate boardroom, the lyrics hit the spot time after time: “I hate musicals/From Phantoms to Fiddlers to Seussicals.”
A Few Pictures (Poland. Marcin Pieczonka. 27 min.)
Pieczonka shows the carefully crafted sensitivity that is the watchword of fellow countryman and legend Krzysztof Kieslowski. A photographer separated from his pregnant wife is caught with candid photos of a woman who lives across from their apartment. Meanwhile, the subject of these photos has her own challenges, unable to express warmth to her own husband, yet unsure of how to respond to her new suitor. Terrific acting and editing make this the best drama seen in Palm Springs.
The Next Move (Finland. Laura Neuvonen. 13 min.)
This wonderfully absurd animated film depicts a husband and wife moving into a new abode, but she literally cannot stop moving the furniture around. It results in her taking on a hilarious exoskeleton of electronic equipment and furnishings and it is all her hubby can do to return her to human form. The piece ends with their progeny taking on her tendencies of perpetual motion, but without, we presume, turning into a creature of household décor.
The Headsman and I (Sweden. Pea Holmquist. 14 min.)
Holmquist documents with great verisimilitude his first meeting with a Hmong tribal leader in 1969 Cambodia, Holmquist’s own challenges in life and then a return, 40 years later, to reunite with Lao Tong. But the Hmong headsman has changed too and the examination of their linkage—and differences—makes this a very touching short film.
Room 10 (USA. Jennifer Aniston and Andrea Buchanan. 20 mins.)
Sitcom and film star Aniston and co-director Buchanan have chosen a simple story, that of an emergency room nurse (Robin Wright Penn) who works long hours to avoid her own failing relationship. She is changed in one night by a man who witnesses his wife’s death (Kris Kristoferson) and advises that the key to success in marriage is “staying in the room.” Penn and Kristoferson are a delight together, elevating the material to a lovely, believeable level.
Madame Tutli-Putli (Canada. Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski. 18 min.)
One of the most hard-to-describe animated films at this great festival, this is the allegorical tale of a woman who boards a train, later finds her companions and luggage missing, senses the train is overtaken by malevolent forces and is led into a transcendent light by a moth. The characters are also remarkable, seemingly papier-mache with eyes that are very human in appearance. The music, imagery and symbolism combine to take the viewer to a place rarely experienced—and often craved—by serious filmgoers: of puzzlement, poeticism and profundity.