The Austin Chronicle

Austin Film Festival Review: Shorts Program 10 – Everything’s Shorter in Texas

By Sean L. Malin, October 16, 2016, 3:00pm, Picture in Picture

Comprised of both fiction and nonfiction shorts that occupied all manner of generic and thematic spaces, from family tragedy to black-and-white biography to absurdist horror/comedy, this Texas shorts showcase was impressively but bewilderingly too diverse to earn any one final judgement on its quality.

Still, the dominant sensation in the packed auditorium was one of profound respect for the talent on display in the films, most seriously for the dramatic works that bookended the program. AFF’s curation here was ingenious: in the first film, “The Lemon Tree,” writer/director Amanda Yam fashioned a visually beautiful cancer parable out of the idea that plants grow unwittingly in human stomachs. Textured with drab blues, grays, and one important and magnificent splash of yellow, Yam’s assured short seemed almost like a preamble for “That Day” from filmmaker Stephanie Mishelle Ard. In ten distressing minutes, Ard (whose film capped the showcase as a powerful bummer) captures fully the experience of a young adolescent attending her father’s funeral reception.

Stories of similar complexity came – not coincidentally – from a series of UT-based filmmakers: Rachel Bardin, who shot her ambitious biographical doc “Lavoyger” in gorgeous black-and-white; Joel Fendelman, whose character study “Game Night” observes a ruminant night in the life of a failed athlete; and Lizette Barrera, who with writer Renier Murrillo portrays a near-incestuous family’s confrontation in “Mosca.” These Texas-set projects challenged the pejorative use of the term “student film” with their undeniable visual accomplishments and their unifying sense of profound social concerns. Between “Lavoyger” and “Game Night,” we received the two most excoriating commentaries on social stratification to screen in Austin since Juan Pablo Gonzalez’s brilliant 2014 short “The Solitude of Memory.”

But scattered amongst these shorts was a more erratic display of preoccupations and styles. The standout vision belonged to “Flush,” a swift piece of comic nastiness which could easily be billed as 2001: A Space Odyssey meets Chucky (basically, an automatic toilet hungers for a businessmen’s blood.) Precise yet intentionally ridiculous at the same time, the film unintentionally disrupted the moodier, more distressing energies established by Hannah Whisenant’s “Makeup” and Jason Neulander’s Polanski-like “Hit & Run.” No genre is better than another – and these filmmakers are not meant to be screened competitively – but without “Flush,” an emotional continuity may have lent the Shorts Program 10 more lasting heft and gravity.

Shorts Program 10: Everything's Shorter in Texas screens again Wednesday, Oct. 19, 4pm, Rollins Theatre.

The Austin Film Festival runs Thu., Oct. 13, through Thu., Oct. 20. See for schedule and info. Follow our continuing coverage of the fest at www.austinchronicle/austin-film-festival.

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