Daily updates from the first annual AFI DALLAS International Film Festival presented by Target, founding sponsor Victory Park, March 22 to April 1, 2007

Friday, March 23, 2007

Shorts Program 2

Still from Lump, part of Shorts Program 2

Making a film is full of complexities. There's the script to write, the actors to hire, the director to direct. At least full-length feature filmmakers have the luxury of time to tell their story. Makers of shorts have no such luck. But many, as shown by the films in Shorts Program 2, take advantage of the immediacy of the format to wow their audiences with inventive plots and intense characters that just don't work in features.

For instance, Shorts 2 begins with Lilah Vandenburgh's BITCH, a painfully funny look at "love at first sneer." The story begins as the main character, the "bitch" if you will, doles out heavy helpings of smack-down on hipsters, posers and all-around idiots.

"You know that annoying guy you overhear at the MoMA or the Inwood expounding about how indie or cultured he is?" asks Vandenburgh. "Well, Bitch, a pop-culture vigilante, just punches that guy in the mouth. She don’t care."

But what happens when Bitch does care? Can she overcome her sudden infatuation with her apparent equal - a spiteful shoplifter who lifts records - and still retain her Bitch-iness?

Next, stick around for THE LISTENING DEAD, a short but sweet silent horror film that traces the marital woes of a cruel couple who live in a haunted Gothic mansion. When Nigel, an obsessed composer, chooses to spend the night slaving over his piano, his wife, Karen, not only curses at him, but casts a curse upon him, which causes Nigel's phantom muse to seek vengeance.

Asked why he chose the silent route, writer and director Phil Mucci replies simply, "Sound is so overused in film. Especially nowadays, where it is [used] to scare the audience with blasts of Dolby 5.1. But these techniques kind of cheapen the experience."

If it seems Mucci has put a lot of thought into this film, it's because he has. "Having worked for years in advertising, it started really killing my spirit. Making The Listening Dead, in many ways,
saved me from a creative and emotional vortex."

Moving from the horrors of the mystical to the horrors of the medical, you will find Faye Jackson’s LUMP. Christine (powerfully played by Lara Belmont) finds she has a lump (a fibroadenoma, to be exact) in her breast, and doctors are forced to operate. But each time one lump is removed, Christine finds another in its place. And another.

"In regards to the lump itself," says Jackson, "I wanted to create that feeling of dread, that something-is-seriously-wrong-but-I-don’t-know-what feeling, and I liked the idea of one small persistent thing slowly driving the lead character crazy."

For her inspiration, Jackson cites her own unnerving medical experiences. "I was once operated on by a surgeon I never met (before or after the operation, I can only assume we weren’t introduced during), which I found creepy and did partly inspire this film."

As for the rest of the program, you will find a fine selection of shorts filmed across the sea and across the border.

In WANTED…, German filmmaker Arturo Salvador depicts a woman full of longing who loses herself in newspaper personal ads, while British director Brian Hennigan's DUCK MAN shows one man's poignant quest to become the city's duck feeder while enjoying its high-rolling perks.

A dark secret lies at the heart of Irish filmmaker Conor Morrissey's LAST NIGHT, and it slowly drives a couple's marriage apart.

Meanwhile, in TROLL CONCERTO, two unlikely characters are drawn together - one a cellist named Frida and the other a renegade troll - in a work by Canadian filmmaker Alexandre Franchi.

Shorts Program 2 screen March 24, 2:15pm, and March 25, 9:45 pm, at AFC.

by Chad Jones, staff writer, AFI DALLAS Daily News