Documentary Shorts (Michael Rothman, Michael Becker, Ryan Suffern, Jonathan Mann, Sean McGing, 2013): USA

Reviewed by Kelly Bader. Viewed at Santa Barbara Film Festival 2014.

It was my final day of seeing films for the 29th Santa Barbara International Film Festival.  Crowds were thick as people were coming out of the woodwork to catch a film the final days of the festival.  My original intent was to catch a fictional thriller, but unfortunately it had gotten a lot of “buzz” and the queue line was unreal.  I stood and waited anyway on the off chance, but to no avail.  Trying to think quickly the Documentary Shorts was going to be seating within 15 minutes and so I changed my plan and went in.  It turned out to be a great showing.

There were five short documentaries that were shown ranging in length from nine minutes to thirty-one minutes.  The running theme appeared to be strange or eccentric characters.  Each film presented the audience with an individual in a unique situation.  It was difficult not to feel invested in each character

Of real interest was a nine-minute short about children who are the product of the same sperm donor, “The Kids of 5114”.  Somehow these children have managed to locate each other and build some sibling relationships.  This piece leaves the viewer with so many unanswered questions.  However, the director was at the screening and stated that he has continued contact and filming these subjects.  I believe this short is the jumping off point to a full-length documentary.

One of the other very short documentaries I viewed was “Real Change”, another nine minute short.  The premise was to show in the Washington state area how an organization provides work to homeless and low-income individuals through the sale of a newspaper.  What was so interesting about this film were the shots, many done in the rain.  Shots taken from inside a van that is now home for a disabled man.  The fog and rain viewed through a window intensified the despair that these individuals must experience on a daily basis.  The filmmaker did a fantastic job in the short amount of time of playing on our heartstrings.

“Running Blind” was a much longer film, about a man who is going blind from a rare illness.  His goal was to run twelve marathons in the year 2012 to raise funds for his cause.  This was a truly inspiring film.  The director, Ryan Suffern, was in attendance and explained that the subject of his documentary is a friend of his.  Most of the audience Q & A was directed at Ryan’s film, so it obviously struck a chord with filmgoers.

The most eccentric character was a locksmith, Phillip, who was the main focus of “Do Not Duplicate”.  With a small shop in New York’s Greenwich Village, we are shown how a blue-collar worker strives to be an artist.  Phillip takes old keys and using his welding techniques creates unique panel sculptures.  There is no interview of the main character, instead he is allowed to ramble in his explanation of how he got where he is.  The filming was so well done, as we are absorbed into the life of Phillip.  The audience feels like they are there, in the small shop and in his art studio.  The sensation that you are just “hanging out” with a friend is pervasive throughout the entire film.

I was so fortunate to have just stumbled upon these Documentary Shorts.  They were so different and enjoyable from anything I had seen thus far at the festival.  It is too bad that the theater was not full, many missed out on some truly interesting film works.  I was actually disappointed when they were over, I could have continued to sit in the theater watching more of the same.


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