19Th Palm Springs International Short Film Festival Wraps


Jack Lyons Theatre & Film Critic
Jack Lyons Theatre & Film CriticVV

With the 19th Annual Palm Springs International Short Film Festival (ShortFest) now wrapped for 2013, it’s time for the winners to celebrate.  For all the filmmakers who entered films, winners and the not-so-lucky, it’s time to begin the torturous process all over again.  There are over 4,000 worldwide festivals with over 2,000 here in the good old USA.

The process, however, comes with the profession of being a filmmaker.  If one wants to have a successful film career, the “product”, the film, has to be seen as widely as possible.  The more film festivals one enters the greater the chances are for a distribution or a juicy, multi- picture deal becoming a reality.  The Palm Springs ShortFest film festival is the largest in North America and is a must stop for serious filmmakers.

Harold Matzner, Katheleen McInnis and Darryl Macdonald ~photo by Pat Krause
Harold Matzner, Katheleen McInnis and Darryl Macdonald ~photo by Pat Krause

With over 300 films in the festival, I had an opportunity to see about twenty or so early on in the festival.  Now that the closing night program is history, I have a few more “mini-reviews” to share.  It’s always illuminating to see the subject matter that interests our filmmakers of the future.  Granted, some of the entries are calling-cards to get noticed in order to separate from the pack (it’s a hard, rough and tumble, brutally competitive industry geared for those with elephant hides when it comes to rejection.  All actors can relate to this in spades).   Whether it’s a feature length or a short film everything begins with a story and a personal vision.  No story, no vision … no film!  If films do get made without those two components, they usually are not very good films.

In the short film “The Egg Trick” (UK), the great Sir Ian McKellen plays a magician who continually pulls egg after egg out of his top hat and keeps handing them to a young (12 year-old) audience member who has difficulty handling and hanging on to them.  This took seven minutes, however, all the while I couldn’t help wondering what the point of the film was.  Where is the payoff?  I still don’t know.  Ah, the creative muse moves in strange and mysterious ways.

In “Emily” (UK, 12 min.) it looks like a middle age man having a drink in a London coffee bar has hit the jackpot, so to speak, when a beautiful young woman locks eyes with him and gives him that come hither look.  With guarded but interested detachment the man tries to resist her very direct advance. “I’m a married man “ he replys. She counters with the suggestion that they discuss the issue at her flat.  Cut to the bedroom and the ubiquitous roll in the sheets.  In between, we get her rationale as to her “open bed” policy.  The twist, at least for me, is this film is made by a female.  Normally, stories like this are the fantasy of young male directors – ad nauseum.

Eric Kissan and Lisa Ruuin ~photo by Pat Krause
Eric Kissan and Lisa Ruuin ~photo by Pat Krause

“King of the Teds” (UK, 26 min.) Angry and bitter at losing his job at a Northern England bottle factory on account of his age Ron (Tom Jones, yes, that Tom Jones, the singer in his acting debut) and wife Tina (Alison Steadman) are surprised when Nina  (the wonderful Brenda Blethyn) an old flame of Ron’s and friend to both, drops by unannounced from London, after having tracked them down via Facebook.

Jones is surprisingly good in his acting debut.  He’s a little tense, but world-class performers never forget how to portray a character whether singing on stage or in a movie.  Blethyn, of course, is a marvelous actor of wide ranging skills; her Oscar proves that. And Steadman also delivers the goods, in this acting threesome, which is a little gem of a short film.

“Love and Skin” (USA, 27 min.)  This debut film by Virginia Cassavetes, the granddaughter of John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands, features her father actor Nick Cassavetes in a film about the “skin trade” – films made for the adult movie industry.

It’s unfortunate that a lot of valuable film stock was wasted on a film that didn’t bring anything new to the table in the form of a story.  By the way, this film suffers the same fate as “Emily”.  Someone needs to inform the two young filmmakers that Sex, is not a spectator sport.  Borrring !!!!

“Silk” (USA, 17 min.)  Directed by Catherine Dent, the film offers a message about rigid middle-eastern culture when it bumps heads with the diversity of LA.  In this film about a haggard-looking, middle-aged woman who was forced into an arranged marriage to a brutish older husband at age 11, we see her struggle with the customs of her youth and the opportunities now available to women in the west.

She receives an opportunity to become her own person when her businessman husband succumbs to a heart attack (a few audience members broke into applause when I viewed it).  As a widow, she sells the business and walks away from her old suffocating life.  It’s a simplistic and predictable story, however, for me, it’s the subtext that is the real story being illuminated.  Also, I especially liked the clever device by director Dent in the last scene.  As the wife, played by the excellent Oscar-nominated Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo, walks down the street from her now closed shop and away from her past, she keeps getting younger-looking, and younger-looking.  Nice touch.

Rhys Mitchell, Barclay Lauton and Daniel Leads ~photo by Pat Krause
Rhys Mitchell, Barclay Lauton and Daniel Leads ~photo by Pat Krause

When all was said and done, the following films ended up in the 2013 Festival winner’s circle:  In the Jury Category Awards: Best of the Festival Award “Delicate Gravity” from France; Panavision Grand Jury Award (a camera package valued at $60,000) to “Strange Brothers” from France; Future Filmmaker Award to Erick Schmitt of Germany for “Rhino Full Throttle”; and a special jury mention for the Norwegian film “The Wall” for its grit, humanity, and creativity.

The Audience Awards honored  “Walking the Dogs” from the United Kingdom, as favorite live action short; and “Not Anymore: A story of Revolution” (USA) by Matthew VanDyke, as Audience favorite Documentary short.

The 19th Annual 2013 Short Film Festival was clearly the best attended, by both filmmakers and by ticket buying audiences, to date.  If you find yourself in Palm Springs, CA next June, by all means catch a few days of this exciting film festival.  You won’t be disappointed.

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