It never fails that regardless of the location, an audience watching UT students' works seems forgiving of technical glitches, so fortunately the great majority of Sunday's audience for this eight-film program of UT shorts were rewarded for persevering through the glitches with the last short in the program, "Divide and Conquer," Jamarl Tyler's unflinching, kinetic black-and-white video. The 25-minute short tracks corrupt prison guards who stage fights among prisoners and bet on the outcome; it might seem less disturbing were it not based upon similar events in a California prison recently in the news. That short nicely bookends "blue note," written, directed, and produced by Rahdi Taylor, which places a burgeoning relationship at the center of police-directed racial tensions in L.A. In fact, a thematic thread coursing through nearly all the shorts is the filmmakers' critique of established power structures. The most hilarious and endearing of those critiques is Mocha Jean Herrup and Joanna Ingalls' "POM." Ingalls plays a lovable little cretin who convinces herself that she would be one among equals in UT's cheerleading squad, full of buxom blonds and Baptists. Thankfully, Ingalls is neither. Also engaging is "The Clock," Joseph Ambrosavage's 11-minute video in which the protagonist involves all of a store's shoppers in helping him decide whether he ought to buy a clock; like "blue note," the ending of "The Clock" contains the possibility of blossoming love. The SXSW program book describes "Happiness Weighed and Found Wanting" as "A dying television confesses the circumstances of its own death," which is more than I thought this short was up to. Obviously, the confession aspect was over my head. Scott Dodson spends too much time making certain nothing passes over the viewer's head in "In Search of Bathroom Graffiti," a mockumentary that could be made more effective with the removal of several minutes of footage. The same prescription would remedy the dark "little black box" by Juliet Dervin, which follows a woman in the driver's seat who analyzes her relationships. "The Merchant's Wife Leaves Home" is an intriguing, motion-obsessed short with a totemic robot, wax skull, and human hair as the principal surreal objects that form a series of relationships.
-- Claiborne Smith
Despite the amateurish faults occasionally evident in the rivetingly titled “Shorts 1” program, each short film manages to capture some of both the passion and the skill essential to the creative process. Although clearly indicating the differences between dialogue and direction (here: “good” and “lacking” respectively), Sasha Greer Levinson’s “The Stork and the Pussycat,” a middleweight relationship tale, had a charming naïveté to it; as did the Mexican-American family profile “Barbacoa” by Mike Cevallos. “Amy,” Susan Rivo’s story about a woman’s exceptional, even excessive, devotion to a doll proves you don’t need superior production standards to produce superior laugh. And Greg Pak’s “Mouse,” in which obsession is interpreted as distraction and distraction leads to dissolution, as well as Tinge Krishnan’s “Groove on a Stanley Knife,” a brutal look at the stress of friendship in the most strained and time-compressed of environments, both had beautiful cinematographic moments. But even more noteworthy than any technical achievement was the accidental theme: In three of the shorts -- “Mouse,” “Groove on a Stanley Knife,” and “The Stork and the Pussycat” -- there was an unmistakable gender claim. At worst, it was an overtly deliberate “men bad,” and in its most subtle incarnation clear lines were drawn around what men are and are not capable of doing successfully when it comes to dealing with women. Funny then that “Barbacoa,” a short featuring acting that only Chris Elliot could love, a short with ad hoc symbolism tacked on the end, a short with extremely average writing was, as scored by the applause-o-meter anyway, the most liked of the lot. Even funnier that a not-so-great film, speaking purely in technical terms, can still make a great point (“men not so bad”) and do it with heartwarming poignancy.
--- Michael Bertin
Next screening: 3/20, Dobie 2, 3:45pm