Sunday, January 25, 2009

Who likes short shorts?

Everyone knows that documentaries are often the best movies at Sundance. That can also be true of the Shorts. So I always like to try and catch the Documentary Shorts screening. This year’s group included eight films and as usual they represented a wide range of topics and quality.

Some bordered on boring, like Steel Homes by director Eva Weber. This ten-minute film explores the emotional issues associated with Scottish storage units. There was the Real Place, an animated film about John Murrell from director Cam Christiansen. The animation was cool but the movie made me feel stupid. It didn’t tell me who Murrell is and seemed to suggest I should already know. (He’s a famous Canadian playwright.)

Chop Off was just plain creepy. This strangely made film by director M.M. Serra tells the story of a body modification enthusiast who is covered in tattoos and regularly chops off chunks of his fingers and toes with a hammer and chisel. Don’t rush out to rent this one.

I knew It Was You by director Richard Shepard is to acting what Art and Paper is to the advertising world. By looking back at the life of John Cazale (who died in the 70s at the age of 42), a who’s who of acting legends gets to reminisce about the good old days. At 40 minutes, this barely qualifies as a short.

More powerful was Annie P. Waldman’s So the Wind Won’t Blow It All Away which takes a look at teenagers dealing with the aftermath of Katrina. The people at GOOD (publishers of GOOD Magazine) offered two films. The better of the two was GOOD: Internet Censorship by Lindsay Utz, Morgan Currie, and Jason Jones. I love the way GOOD Magazine presents complex statistical information. And this film took the same stylized design and elevated it, informing us how American companies are contributing to Internet censorship around the world. You can watch the short here.

My pick of the group is Utopia, Part 3: The World’s Largest Shopping Mall from the “too crazy to be fiction” category. Filmmakers Sam Green and Carrie Lozano take us to a city in China that has no airport or major roadways leading to the town. A local entrepreneur turned billionaire returned to his hometown and decided to build the world’s largest shopping mall. It’s twice as big as the Mall of America. “Build it and they will come” didn’t work this time. The film wanders the strangely quiet compound. It’s all but vacant. A Teletubby-like character dances through the empty streets, waving at no one. A Gondolier guides an empty Gondola through the canals of a faux-Venice. And a worker at a lone retail store admits she’s sold nothing today. This is a fantastic film that tells an extraordinary tale with haunting humor.

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