Monday, June 09, 2008

BIFF: Shorts

Film festivals are just about the only venue left for short films, aside from the occasional theatrical round-up of the year’s Oscar nominated shorts. Last week, BIFF held up its end with an extensive selection of shorts, which varied widely in every discernable measure. Three were particularly memorable, again for very different reasons.

The best single film of the festival had a mere thirteen minute running time, but each minute counted. In German director Jochen Alexander Freydank’s Toyland (Spielzeugland), an Aryan mother cannot bring herself to explain to her young son that his Jewish best friend will be imminently transported to a concentration camp. Instead, she tells him that friend is going to Toyland. Naturally, her son wants to go too, as the mother’s white lie leads to complications she had not foreseen. It is difficult to reveal much of the story given its brevity, but it well earns the emotional payoff of its elegant conclusion.

Toyland handles the subject of the Holocaust with respect and dignity. Unfortunately, The River of Copsa Mica, simply uses WWII and the Holocaust as window dressing for an allegory about environmental pollution and the military-industrial complex. Making a statement on current controversies is perfectly legitimate, but using such a significant event as a rhetorical device borders on the offensive.

Thabo Wolfaardt’s surprisingly intense Joburg (trailer here), though certainly self-contained, would be the one short film of the festival that most cries out to be expanded into a full feature. Filmed entirely in Johannesburg, it effectively captures the danger and squalor of the city. Tshepo, a newspaper hawker desperate to pay for his brother’s medicine and overdue rent, carjacks a pregnant woman having a very bad night. The relationship between these two characters is deftly handled, leading viewers to speculate about further dealings between them.

The best short films require the discipline of the short story and the imagery of poetry. Making a really good one is hard, but Toyland and Joburg are excellent examples.