I have spent much of the week tweeting that I've been more consistently impressed with Tribeca’s shorts line-up than by their mixed bag of features. The collection of shorts includes a variety of narrative, documentary and experimental works stretched over eight programs, each of which offers a unique assortment of talent. After watching over 50 of them, I’ve put together some of my favorites: five that you can watch online now and five to look forward to as these films pick up steam and perhaps make it to theaters or the web in the near future.
The winner of the “My Movie Pitch” contest held by American Express, this ridiculous short tracks the story of a man who dares to wear his inner mustache on the outside. It’s got great use of narration, which is commendable in these times of often-annoying voiceover, and a very unique sense of humor. It's a witty fantasy, starring Rich Sommer and Amy Smart. Watch it after the jump.
The next short could very well be my favorite of the whole crop. This second film of writer/director Domhnall Gleeson stars his father, Brendan Gleeson of “In Bruges” and “Harry Potter” fame. “Noreen” is a hilarious dark comedy in the spirit of frequent collaborator Martin McDonagh (who wrote and directed “In Bruges” and wrote “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” for which Domhnall received a Tony nomination for acting in, in 2006). Two incompetent cops, one crippled by heartbreak, confuse a fairly open-and-shut case and find themselves in an ethically sticky situation. It’s a bit cleaner and lighter than much of McDonagh’s work, but the young Gleeson has mastered the playwright’s sense of timing and brutal humor. It’s a work that shows great promise, and I hope that that Domhnall and his father continue to produce this kind of brilliant comedy. It’s not available online, but here’s the trailer:
“The Dungeon Master”
Crowned Best (Online) Short Film of the festival Thursday night, this riotous film almost qualifies as an anti-coming-of-age movie. A group of nostalgic hipster dudes decide they want to play Dungeons and Dragons for the first time since high school and get a dedicated cape-wearing dungeon master to come lead their trip down memory lane. Yet it seems that they got more than they bargained for, and as the situation gets gradually more emotional the consequences of conflict become increasingly dire. One wonders if these guys have even grown up at all, despite their sense of superiority over their geeky dungeon mater. The short can be viewed at the Tribeca Online Screening Room, and the trailer is below.
The Scandinavian presence at Tribeca this year is incredibly strong. There are great narrative features from Norway and Sweden, docs from Denmark and Iceland, and here’s a Swedish short that simply entrances. It’s quite simple, a five minute snippet of inner monologue plaguing a young teen as he tries to come out to his parents. The palpable anxiety of the moment is perfectly combined with the agony of holding onto this intense secret, and it’s perhaps the most genuine portrayal of the experience I’ve seen in cinema. Here’s the trailer:
As I think is pretty clear from my review of “Turn Me On, Goddammit” and “She Monkeys,” one of the aspects of Tribeca 2011 I find most encouraging is the extensive presence of women writers and directors. These filmmakers are really shining a light on genuine female experience and moreover giving the audience especially strong works addressing the real lives of adolescent girls. “The Kiss,” by Australian director Ashlee Page, is a beautifully shot tale of two friends under the double influence of alcohol and being a reckless teenager. Intimacy moves into terror and panic as the film progresses, keeping you riveted from start to finish. It’s playing in the Online Screening Room.
“Caretaker of Our Lord”
What is it like to watch a church die? This beautifully understated documentary takes a look at an aging Protestant community in Glasgow, Scotland, where the Sunday service is regularly attended by less than 30 people, most of whom are elderly women. As a new and unfamiliar pastor rails against his parishioners, director Jane McAllister cuts between poetically framed shots of these senior ladies having soup, doing yoga and simply discussing the history of their long-time religious and social center. It’s a bittersweet portrayal of a changing world, and McAllister is a welcome addition to the world of documentary shorts.
“Crash and Burn”
Like “Caretaker” this is a terribly intimate documentary, but the stylistic connections end there. It’s the loud and hilarious story of two rockers, the contingent parts of a New York based punk duo called “Crash and Burn.” When Burn comes out to Crash as a transsexual, things are initially shaken up quite a bit. Yet this potentially rough experience turns into a redefinition and strengthening of their relationship as both musicians and friends. Filmmaker Rick Rodgers’ portrayal is both funny and touching, and you can catch it in the Online Screening Room.
“Sleep” and “The Green Wave”
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a couple examples of the invigorating experimental filmmaking on display in the festival’s “Impressions of Memory” program. Moreover, the beauty and creativity of these two films in particular is enough to make them accessible to audiences beyond the standard crowd for abstract and obscure experimental shorts. “Sleep” is a “lullaby with closed eyes" to quote the Tribeca description, a short animated experience set to a soundtrack of actual snoring. Haunting and darkly entrancing, filmmakers Claudius Gentinetta and Frank Braun play with images of the ocean to evoke the easy rocking of dreams.
Equally hypnotic is Ken Jacobs’ “The Green Wave,” which uses images of a single wave to create a sense of suspended time. He plays with the angle, the color and the speed to suggest a relationship between the ocean and the unconscious similar to that of “Sleep.” The effect is not simply mesmerizing but almost constructive, as the wave becomes progressively more exaggerated and stylized. It’s the kind of experimental cinema that leaves you more intrigued than dumbfounded, and rewards the experience.
And finally, a taste of New York City. This comedy was featured in the “Open 24 Hours” program, a collection of films about Tribeca’s hometown. It’s pretty funny, following a frustrated tenant as he tries to accommodate his aging landlady. She’s a classic character who can’t remember poor Jimmy’s name but can certainly recall that he hasn’t paid the rent, and can easily order him to get her a Chipwich at the deli down the block. It’s a heartwarming and hilarious story, offering up some distinctly NYC humor.