This weekend's inaugural Louisiana Film Prize, featuring 20 short films shot entirely in and around Shreveport-Bossier City, La., offered regular folks (including me) a chance to vote on which film would receive the $50,000 grand prize. None of my favorites came away victorious, but they left me with some names to watch for in the future.
The winner, "The Legend of Luther Anderson," directed by Thomas Woodruff, Noah Scruggs, and Chris Armand, just missed out on my top-three ballot: it's funny but technically rough, long on humor but short on narrative drive. The eponymous outlaw, played by Woodruff with a sharp comic touch, can't sling a gun to save his life, but he digs up a pair of boots that gives him a powerful kick — which he uses to take down annoying children and satisfy a saloon girl, along with the usual showdowns.
The short may be the most difficult film form to do well. There's no time to luxuriate in the story, but the characters still need to go somewhere. A still life won't do. If "Luther Anderson" stalled on its one (admittedly potent) gag, others evinced the kind of momentum and aesthetic skill that answered my key question in voting: which filmmakers do I want to see more of?
"This is a Microphone" (Phillip Jordan Brooks), which could have been called "Occupy the Heist Film," dispenses with the genre's greed and vengeance in favor of fierce, political anger: the protagonist (Scott Gannon Patton) holds up the bank where he was once employed to save his home from foreclosure. Adamantly topical, it retrofits the bank job for the Great Recession — like "Up in the Air," it perceives the buried fury of the laid off and the underwater, except here it's down the barrel of a gun. Disappointingly, the film turns away from self-immolation, losing its conviction, its animating wrath. Fervid, sending up the sparks of new ideas, "This is a Microphone" moves toward a happy ending, dismantling its own best instincts like so many tents in Zuccotti Park.
Director Mindy Bledsoe's "I'm Sorry For..." takes up regret, too — in the form of an old man who drops in on neighbors, family, and friends after his wife's death to apologize for how awful she was. Wryly funny, with an eye for the physical and emotional detritus we collect over the decades, Bledsoe's film recalls "About Schmidt." It rustles with subtle signals of good humor that suggest its potential for fleshing out as a feature. In my favorite moment, the man's adult son plasters his face with a goofy smile at his mother's memorial service, garnering the sort of awkward, dry laugh from which independent comedies are made.
First among equals, though, was "The Adventures of Captain Oliver," from the husband and wife team of Bryan and Claira McManus. A sort of live-action "Toy Story" for the hipster/DIY set, it features a paisley, five-limbed sea creature — Captain Oliver, a young girl's stuffed companion — on a kaleidoscopic journey through the intersections that mark the day-to-day. The film's ample visual wit breathes life into its expressionless protagonist, who transforms into garden plant, bottled message, dinner platter, imaginary friend. More powerfully, it knits together society's disparate strands, finding a through-line among aging Louisiana fishermen, soccer moms, and skater kids. It's a big story in a small package, exactly what a short should be.
View trailers for "The Legend of Luther Anderson," "This is a Microphone," "I'm Sorry For..." and "The Adventures of Captain Oliver" at the links above.