By Jack Lyons Theatre and Film Critic. Member of American Theatre Critics Association

If you’re a person who prefers shorter film lengths but are looking for film subjects that still delivers all of the emotions, actions, and enjoyment of full length features films, but just tell their stories a little bit quicker, then this is the film festival for you.

The Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF) launched its “cinematic love child” 24 years ago as a result of the success of the third largest film festival (PSIFF) in North America.  Short Fest is unique both as a screening venue and for its marketing service and repository of more than 5000 films that have been archived.  It’s also the largest Short Film festival in North America.

Short films range in screen minutes from as little as four minutes to 101 minutes.  Feature length movies are not screened at Short Fest. Those films can be seen at the big Festival in January of every year.

Short Fest 24 has selected 333 short films that have been culled from 5000 plus submissions that will screen as fifty-five Program groupings by subject matter interest. Sixty countries have submitted entries. There are plenty of short films that will peak the interest of even the fussiest of film junkies.  There are films for everyone despite one’s age or gender.  For more information go online to: www.psfilmfest.org.

Fortunately for me, I selected two short films this week to screen.  The first, a 20 minute-length poignant drama titled “August Sun”.  The second film is called “Game of Chicken”, from Polish filmmaker Karina Hajdamowicz.  Both are first-time professional filmmakers on the festival circuit.

Franco Volpi, is a talented new filmmaker from Argentina, who now resides in London.  British film schools have a successful track record of producing films, both short and long, that focus on narrative stories that reach into the heart and life of England’s working-class men and women.  Volpi is a graduate of the London Film School, whose graduates include internationally known filmmakers: Mike Leigh, Ken Loach, and Richard Lester; with associates that include: Stephen Frears, Ralph Finnes, and Gillian Anderson, among many others.

Mr.Volpi’s film “August Sun” explores the impact of an elderly mother’s dementia, and how it affects her children who no longer live in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Her businessman son Javier, compassionately and poignantly performed by Miquel Di Lemme; who now lives in Vienna Austria, has returned to Buenos Aires to sign important legal and medical papers concerning his mother’s healthcare.

Silvena Sabater, as the mother, delivers a riveting, in-the-moment, astonishing performance that burns the ravages of early dementia into one’s memory.  The on-screen chemistry between Mr. Di Lemme and Ms. Sabater is literally palpable and very compelling. Solid support comes from Jose Maria Marcus, as the avuncular lawyer handling the family’s legal chores, along with Adriana Ferrer as the medical Psychiatrist dealing with the Argentine bureaucracy concerning patient care.

It’s a small bittersweet story with large impacts and ramifications that is leavened with light comedic moments that are all too familiar these days. The film is in the very capable and caring hands of director Volpi. When I asked him in a short interview why he chose this particular story?  He quickly replied, “I had to make this film for personal reasons.”  Auto-biographical I ask?  He nods.  It’s an auspicious film debut for the talented Mr. Volpi.  I suspect this is but the first of many quality films that will follow.

The statuesque Polish-born filmmaker Karina Hajdamowicz’s film “Game of Chicken”, is a 15-minute exploration of how peer pressure and schoolyard bullying affects the classroom and home life of a 14-year-old newly arrived outsider student who yearns to become accepted as insider.  The outcome, however, is not what he was expecting from his classmates.

Bullying is a worldwide societal problem.  Ms. Hajdamowicz tackles the subject matter in muted color photography with moody introspective scenes of young, shy Tony (nicely played by Amadeusz Mazur), who doesn’t confide or fully discuss with his mother, played by Tamara Arciuch), what he faces every day at school from class Bully Frank (Kacper Szablewski).  Today’s single working mothers have little downtime to discuss how their children’s days in school are going until something happens to warrant a visit with the Principal and the police.

Director Hajdamowicz, a mother herself, tells her story with intuition and sensitivity.  There are a couple of scenes that might be considered mildly shocking, but those scenes are tastefully directed with skill and are integral to the story.  All in all, her film is technically proficient and sheds a necessary light on the growing problem of teenage bullying.  She told me in a brief chat that she is already working on a new script of her next film project, which she expects to film sometime next year.  Is it about bullying as well, I asked?  She smiled and said “I will send you a copy of my script for you to decide” adding “I would love return to the 2019 Palm Springs International Film Festival with a full-length feature film for consideration. “ Stay tuned.

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