Shorts Program Six (Hertzfeldt / Morrison / Prows, AFI Fest 2012): USA

Reviewed by China Rose.  Viewed at AFI Fest 2012.

Shorts Program Six featured three modern films of which two were distinctly experimental and the other was ultra-edgy with a strong arm of moral retribution. First let me tell you that for me watching “shorts” is like wine tasting or shoe shopping. You get to try something on without a huge commitment and yet you can often uncover some real gems. So yes, I’ve got expectations.


The experimental qualities in the first of three films, It’s Such A Beautiful Day were very easy to mold in to. They featured a shortened version of the (longer version) (70 minutes) animation by Don Hetzfeldt that is up for an Oscar award. This story is an animated kind of journal-ed (voice over) narrative of a guy, (stick man) Bill who loses his self, or memory, or psych or all of the above, or something goes really wonky upstairs. The day to day exploration of his forgotten self and mis-matched realities lead Bill to exploring the world (enter other people in Bill’s world in stickman fashion) using animated loops with repetitive themes and phrasing. It’s a beautiful day… that is where it seems to begin and end for our protagonist through Bill’s negotiated journey of self discovery post, some form of trauma. It’s very experimental because it does not follow a true narrative format or standard film making conventions. Instead it goes off on tangents and wanders into the side lines, metaphorically, of course. This first film was a tasty appetizer to whet the appetite for shorts.


The next flick is a real fling called Just Ancient Loops and it’s an iconic, collaborative work of film and music intertwined with visual, space harmonics. Yeah, it is truly experimental so my needs were meet with this film. It combines film work of outer space telescopes and satellites set to music by renowned cellist, May Beiser and musical composers Micheal Harrison and Bill Morrison. Even their names bridge reality with a roll-off-your-tongue, symmetry. It certainly captured a deep space wonderment. Honestly, I think what we may see here is that one day soon, in our near future selves, our techno lives will become the space avatars to captain space probes. That we will most likely become avatars to time traveling probes was the kind of ideas it gave rise to in my inspired mind. Our physical  ability to go into space frontiers is most probably as earthly avatars. being a ships captains to amazing probes that have super human powers sounds good to me. To go remotely into remote places of space, aah the power of a short, fun flick!


The piece de resistance was Narcocorrido, by Director Ryan Prows. This was not really experimental for me since it seemed more like a film-hybrid of a straight-shooting, music video and true-to-life, narrative storytelling. It will grab you by the balls and squeeze, then punch you in the eye and jab you in the gut. This was tough love to watch unfold. It’s gritty, hand grasping, over-exposed camera work gives it a very modern cop- stop, feel. Like you are on a surveillance camera in headlights. On the surface this film had shades of Traffic by Stephen Soderbergh with the crack edits and lens work, hand-held and hard fought. the strong Actors performances (to include convincing hair, wardrobe and make-up in a naturalistic way)  were re-creation, type authentic. This dark film is graphicly violent and more than your garden variety daytime entertainment. It’s a grizzly tale of woe. I recall reading a story about a bad, border guard some ten years back that resembles this remarkable and brunt force of a film. The musical ballad, the band in a bar is a nice way to bring the story to a new place without knowing where it will go.

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