Wednesday, March 02, 2011

NYICFF ’11: Shorts

The Academy still shows its love for shorts and it’s a good thing too. Luke Matheny’s acceptance speech for God of Love was about the only part of this year’s broadcast to get good reviews. In truth, all the winning shorts were rather strong this year, including the animated winner, The Lost Thing, which the New York International Children’s Film Festival had already fortuitously selected for this year’s festival.

While Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann’s The Lost Thing (trailer here) is based on a children’s book (written and illustrated by Tan) and is suitable for all ages, it is told from the reflective perspective of a man of somewhat mature age wistfully looking back on a mysterious event from his childhood. Discovering some sort of alien or fantastical creature at the beach (apparently a mollusk in an armored tea kettle), the narrator tries to figure out what to do with this new friend that the adult world tries its best to ignore. A strange but gentle fable, Thing is visually arresting and surprisingly meditative. One of three worthy nominees, it was arguably the most substantive of the animated field.

Though hardly for mature audiences, Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata’s Something Left, Something Taken might be the first NYICFF selection tackle a serial killer storyline. CSI-junkie Max and his indulgent girlfriend Ru have come to San Francisco for a forensic lecture on the Zodiac Killer, but fear they may have accepted a ride from the good Dr. Janno’s subject. Featuring a variety of filmmaking techniques and vaguely South Parky looking characters, Something has a subversive sense of humor that will definitely appeal to ostensibly adult animation junkies.

Of course, adulthood brings its own challenges. One elderly jazz musician plays a one-man requiem to his former bandmates in Jeanett Nørgaard, Marie M. T. Tørslev, Marie Jørgensen, and Mette Ilene Holmriis’ touching Leitmotif. Elegant, sad, but most definitely swinging, it crystallizes the tragic dignity of so many forgotten musicians, in about seven minutes.

Yet, for absolute heartbreak, it is hard to beat the nine focused minutes of Chloé Zhao’s live action short Daughters. China is a country that seems to mass produce anguish. It is also known for its marked preference for boys rather over girls, which accounts for the looming shortage of marriageable women under China’s restrictive family planning policies. With a coveted baby boy on the way, the parents of fourteen year-old Maple suddenly have one daughter too many. Coldly pragmatic, they see only two options. Either they foist off her sweetly trusting younger sister on a distant family member or they arrange her marriage to a disturbingly old man. Not surprisingly, such news causes confusion and resentment for the young teen.

Despite its brevity, Daughters features a devastating lead performance from Luo Qian as Maple. Undeniably assured filmmaking, Daughters is all the more impressive considering it was the NYU alumnus’s second year film.

Given the subject matter and its memorable young cast, it is particularly appropriate that Daughters screens as part of NYICFF’s special Girls’ POV Shorts block (recommended for ages ten and up) next Saturday (3/12) and the following Sunday (3/20). Something also fittingly screens during the Heebie Jeebies block of spooky shorts (ages ten and up) this Saturday (3/5) and March 26th, while both Leitmotif and Thing screen as part of Short Films Two (ages eight to adult) on March 5th, 6th, 13th, and 26th.