"Art is not a thing; it is a way."

Elbert Hubbard

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A SHORT NOTE (Oscars, Tropfest & A Few Thrown In)

The start of every year is rife with the onslaught of short films. Between the announcement of the Academy Award finalists, the annual Tropfest finalists presentation and the Queer Film Fest line-up, short films get more of a look-in than at any other time during the year. Even the Brisbane Film Fest was light on the short form last year - let's hope that is remedied this year - so it's with trepidation that as the numbers of shorts shown decrease that the expectation of quality is always metered.

Here's a look at what's been given an audience:

AWAKENING (Liam Newton)

Reminiscent of WALL-E, this sweet film is beautifully realised and animated by its director, Liam Newton. Focusing on a robot building a potential partner he sits mesmerised at the beauty of the finalised creation as his own battery power runs out. At five minutes it's the perfect length.

DUG'S SPECIAL MISSION (Ronaldo Del Carmen)

Directed by Ronaldo Del Carmen, this alternate viewpoint of an already present part of the film, Up, presents an interesresting prospect for film, however, it never goes anywhere and doesn't really add to the film as a whole either. As a short it fails to capture the audience and running at five minutes feels more like a deleted scene than a short film.

EVERY SECOND WEEKEND (Scott Holgate & Tony Nicholls)

This underappreciated little gem borders that line between advertisement and short film but manages to stay just the right side of it as a fathers' group meeting is edited together to show the pain and sheer anguish these men are feeling. It's an insightful short film that perhaps lacks the direction of a narrative but manages nonetheless to evoke a real sense of empathy.


Directed by Harrison Murray, this tale of domestic trouble is told completely in reverse. Revealing new details with each new step, Murray's film is one of intrigue, however, it feels more gimmicky than anything else. The story is a simple one and it lacks the substance that a story of domestic unrest would normally contain primarily because the development of the characters and situation is hindered by the gimmick employed. Watchable without being memorable.

FISH LIPS (Duane Fogwell)

An absolute rip-off of the French film, Amélie, this frantically told and edited indictment of growing up different is technically perfect but void of originality. Everything screams a level of affectation that is confronting to the viewer and therefore hinders one's appreciation of it. It's a shame because a tale of the love of Yahtzee is in itself potentially hilarious and the film is funny but one wonders is it okay to copy another film so blatantly? It's an immensely watchable short that is well-made but there is even a communicating fish in it for heaven's sake. Did no one else see the similarities?

FRENCH ROAST (Fabrice Joubert)

This Oscar-nominated short film is a very French, very cynical and humorous look at the way circumstance and perception can truly affect one's view of humanity. Set in a cafe in France, the film follows a well-to-do patron who orders coffee and realises he doesn't have his wallet to pay for it. Instead of owning up to the matter he orders coffee after coffee trying to determine a means to an end. As a homeless man asks for money he is indifferent to him and shoos him on his way. His attention is then drawn to a sleeping nun at the table next to him. A back story of a series of robberies is introduced and it soon becomes evident that everything is far from what it seems. It's funny and looks delightful but it's slight and can't quite escape that punch-line quality to a one-trick-pony joke. A charmer if not a ground-breaker.


In a stellar period for Irish film they hit their stride and got just desserts with three Academy Award nominations in 2010. After the success of Once, the Irish film industry has, like other smaller film industries, gone on to consolidate that success with funding and further development of that industry. With the success of the animated feature, Brendan And The Secret Of Kells, and the other nominated short, The Door, the industry has begun to find a way to get their films seen. Here, Phelan's delightfully dark and witty tribute to the ol' wans is pitch-perfect in its depiction of the typical Irish granny. Anyone with an Irish grandparent is likely to attest to the slightly black sense of humour and the willingness to be cheeky with one's grandchildren. Retelling a fairytale classic and wringing every ounce of darkness out of it with that knowledge of the Irish granny is a delicious base for a lovely little film. Funny and very Irish, this one is a wee bit of a winner.


This solid little short was a finalist at the 2010 Tropfest and walked away with a couple of awards for its lead actor Clarke Richards and the women in film award for its female lead, writer and co-producer, Katie May Johnson. The success of the film comes from its real understanding of depression and its ability to find the humour from within even the darkest of situations. Johnson is the real find here as her ability to construct a really strong story within such a small time frame and her nuanced performance are incredibly impressive. This was one of the sleepers of the finalists and probably should have figured in a few more awards than it actually did. A very good little film.

HOW GOD WORKS (Matilda Brown)

Matilda Brown, daughter of Rachel Ward and Bryan Brown, takes on multiple roles in this short film about warring sisters. Playing both lead characters, Brown also directs the film she wrote for 2010 Tropfest. It's an interesting dynamism present on screen as she eats up the camera presenting two very different women - one, an actress, completely involved with herself and oblivious to the goings on around her other than to complain about them; the other, a quiet, thoughtful and far more socially aware being. The beauty of this piece is Brown herself. She's a firecracker on screen and should have walked away with the female acting award but she delves deeper than that managing to establish a clear point of view and a keen eye behind the camera. If any film showed a woman with the potential to have the film world at her feet it was this one. With the pedigree she brings it isn't really any surprise.

THE LADY AND THE REAPER (Javier Recio Gracia)

This animated Spanish film made the Oscar shortlist this year and was a worthy candidate. A funny look at the battle between life and death, this tale of an older woman readying herself to once again be with her deceased lover is a fast-paced romp as Death takes part in an actual tug of war with an eager-beaver doctor. Gorgeously animated, it's a little slight on premise but it's a definite crowd-pleaser and a film that will cause at least a couple of giggles.


Winner of two prizes at 2010 Tropfest, (3rd prize and Best Female Actor) this very short, short film is basically reliant on its punchline. Skating that very thin line between making fun of its characters and simply observing odd-ball people, Chuang's film follows the last-ditch effort by Kathy to find a partner as she makes an ad for an Internet dating service. It's not entirely successful in staying clear of belittling its lead protagonist and despite its awards was probably no greater than middle of the pack in the 16-wide field.

François Alaux, Hervé de Crécy & Ludovic Houplain)

Winner of the Oscar for animated short, this near-twenty minute schlock fest is an entertaining, post-Pulp Fiction genre piece that cleverly uses over 2500 different logos and mascots to create a noir action piece. On the trail of a maniacal, Joker-like Ronald McDonald, Michelin Man cops embark on a cat and mouse chase that sees violence, verbal obscenities and a very adult sense of the aimated world come to life. It's an entertaining and clever piece of filmmaking that perhaps errs on the side of style over substance but in the end it does what it sets out to and that's to capture a significant audience's attention.


Multiple Oscar winners already, Nick Park and his creations Wallace & Gromit, hit the screen again in this Oscar-nominated short film, A Matter Of Loaf And Death. What amounts to nothing more than a rehash of what has come before in the series is a huge disappointment in the scheme of things. Sure, it's not a bad film yet one might expect more and something fresh and new from this dynamic enterprise. The villain isn't quite dark enough to make the story work and Wallace's complete and utter daftness is becoming tiresome rather than endearing or funny. A disappointing but watchable short.

MIRACLE FISH (Luke Doolan)

This well-made Aussie short was amongst the finalists for this year's Academy Awards in the live-action short category and would have made a worthy winner. Alas, the slight gimmickry in its conclusion probably cost it. The performances, however, for the most part are uniformly very strong and there is a real sense of tension built in this school drama. Doolan knows how to frame a shot and his ability to elicit a stellar performance from his young lead is firmly on show. A very well-made short film not soon forgotten.


This delightfully quirky stop-animation piece is essentially nothing more than a music video and for that it suffers slightly when looking for the narrative structure within, however, it's so energetic, frantic and odd that one can't help but have at least a mild fondness for it. Runner-up at the 2010 Tropfest it also took out the award for best original score.

NIC & SHAUNA (Alyssa McClelland)

Woeful doesn't begin to describe this Tropfest finalist featuring the former 'it' girl of Australian film. If it proves anything, McClelland's film says mockumentaries are done as a genre, making fun of characters isn't cool if there's no love for them there in the first place and it's wrong to make good actors look bad. Not much else can be said for this turkey.


This was another of the middle-of-the-road Tropfest finalists that inexplicably picked up a couple of awards for cinematography and screenplay. The screenplay award seems particularly egregious in that everything about Watters' film screams try-hard. Bordering pretentious he throws in a musical number and makes the biggest mistake by actually referring to the Tropfest competition itself. The judging panel this year seem to have been swept up in the whole nepotism problem of the piece à la Eurovision. Oh well, everything loses its charm at some point.

ONE... (Gareth Davies & Damon Gameau)

Sweet, charming, beautifully made, exceptionally constructed and it walks away without a mention. Typical really that this lovely exercise in romance didn't strike the fancy of the Tropfest judging panel. To actually make an audience feel about inanimate objects such as dice in the way that Davies and Gameau are able to is astonishing and whilst the ending is predictable it's still a lovely little film that deserved better than it got. A gorgeous exericse in filmmaking.


This subtly funny and sweet film about a baby-making cloud and its accompanying stork brings a smirk to the viewer. Beautifully animated, Partly Cloudy is a nice addition to the screening of Up. It's a little repetitive and whilst its message is a good one it's a tiny bit sentimental in its delivery. Still, massive points to that stork. He deserves as a big an audience as he can get.

SHOCK (Abe Forsythe)

Unfunny, silly and complete with a ridiculous self-assuredness, this Tropfest winner is everything that is wrong with the competition. Neither clever or particularly well made, this entry from Forsythe, a better actor than filmmaker, fails to convince on any level that the reason it won the competition had anything to do with merit. Better than only two other of the finalists it does nothing for the standing of Tropfest as a serious short film competition.


Basically a filmed joke, this circle story is a funny one that in the long run, however, will find it hard to be remembered. Lacking the ingenuity of a real filmmaker, Sammut comes across as guy next door who had a good idea and decided to turn it into a movie. Whilst that charm works for it in a way, on the whole it doesn't quite stack up to some of the top-notch finalists of Tropfest.

STAKEOUT (Gene Alberts)

The downright clunker of the bunch, this turkey offers a form of humour appreciated by a very small audience. Using a ridiculous premise and supporting that premise with ridiculous characters making ridiculous Wookiee noises is enough to drive anyone sane, mental. Neither funny or particularly well-made, this sits firmly in the, 'the filmmaker thinks he is cleverer than he actually is' mould. There will be an audience for this breed of filmmaking. It's just not this viewer.

TESTICLE (Sheldon Leiberman & Igor Coric)

This winning animated short film at Tropfest 2010 is a juxtaposed film of picture to recorded voiceover of an actual conversation between the director, his wife and the nurse with regard to his baby son's testicles. The idea is an interesting one but the style of animation actually hinders the story gaining traction with the viewer. It was the least of the animated films amongst the finalists. This was another odd decision in the panel's judging considering an animated film placed second overall.


Williams' Tropfest finalist is an interesting short film that falls short and in the end doesn't really amount to much at all. Focusing on a sibling rivalry between two brothers, he investigates both the serious and humorous side of the aggression exerted towards each of the two boys. When the two boys's somehow get involved in a potentially huge problem due to their willingness to exaggerate the film turns silly. It's ending doesn't land the comedic punch it probably should have either.

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