Shorts with Texas Ties
by Bridgette Poe
The art of visual storytelling in less than 25 minutes is a distinct challenge. But for the audience member who favors short films, the challenge becomes where to see them. While certain platforms are beginning to incorporate them into their content, film festivals remain one of the only sources for seeing shorts on the big screen. On its 10th anniversary, The Dallas International Film Festival presents yet another exciting and diverse slate of short films.
DIFF’s dedicated team gleans through hundreds of submissions, attends other festivals, etc. every year to program the best of the best. In addition to competition, there are other categorizations: Late Night Shorts block, Animation, Student works, etc. but across those delineations – it’s easy to make yet another ‘unofficial’ shorts category – those that in some way link back to the Lone Star State.
DIRT is from Houston native Darius Clark Monroe. (His EVOLUTION OF A CRIMINAL was in the Doc competition, DIFF 2014) This is seven minutes of quietly disturbing, breath-holding tension. DIRT is an example of how certain elements are sometimes even more crucial in a short versus a full-length feature. The art direction here is very well-done, but it’s Segun Akande’s exceptional performance that especially makes this piece so effective.
Another female-driven story of sorts is BECOMING. This Austin-made short, portrays a woman (Katie Featherson) dealing with her wedding day and struggling to make the commitment. It also features Dallas native Joey Oglesy and was co-directed by David DeGrow Shotwell (writer of 2013 DIFF offering LOVE AND AIR SEX) and Featherston. (Audiences will definitely recognize this native Texas from her work in the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY franchise)
A nice counter-point to that film is another female-directed short, which also qualifies as a kind of ‘period piece’, Augustine Frizzell’s MINOR SETBACK. Set in the 1990’s, this story about two teen girls who want to play hooky for the day (but “things don’t go as planned”) is set in Garland, TX, which also served as the shoot location. The two lead actresses (one of whom, Christina Burdette is from Dallas) have an undeniable chemistry and turn in rollicking performances. Here again, the writer/director, who spent her adolescence in Garland, mined the source material from her own past. Over the years, Augustine Frizzell (both individually and with her producing partner Liz Franke) has been involved in many DIFF projects as a director, producer and talent.
There’s really not a more ‘Texas-themed’ short this year than Samantha Buck’s THE MINK CATCHER. Set (and shot) in Dallas, the story centers around society ladies in November, 1980 as they gather to watch the cultural phenomenon known as “Who Shot J.R?” Director Buck incorporated her memories of growing up here when forming this story. As stated by EP Katherine Harper, the city itself (as well as the TV show DALLAS) is almost a ‘third character’ in this film. THE MINK CATCHER effectively captures the era. Additionally, the world that these types of women inhabit is smartly portrayed in all the performances. The project was wholly supported by the Dallas film industry; from local casting directors to on-camera talent to locations and production houses, some of the very best in town turned out for this one.
There are several other Austin area shorts in this year’s DIFF program, one of which is the ‘music-infused drama’, MIDNIGHT MOTEL, from Michael Tully. This nicely crafted story about a Texas musician struggling with his ‘creative spirit and his long term-relationship’ showcases Jack Ingram; both as an actor and featuring his songs. (Lead actress Heather Kafka is also seen in this year’s Texas Competition feature DAYLIGHT’S END) In addition to his directing and acting credits, Tully is the founding editor of the “for film lovers” entertainment site, Hammer to Nail.
Then there’s SISTERS, which is somewhat on the opposite end of the short film spectrum. This strange, trippy treat comes from the mind of director Chris Osborn. Sumptuous cinematography and a strong on-screen relationship between the actresses makes this a truly engaging experience.
A few other works from the ATX area all happen within a school setting, but take varied approaches to their differing stories. Benjamin Kegan’s THE FIRST MEN examines the domino effect of what happens when a young teacher, at the mall with her mother, runs into one of her troubled students. It has strong photography, it’s funny and disturbing, but it’s also an intriguing character study. Maria Blasucci’s portrayal of a woman on her own self-induced, weird edge is quite captivating.
PB, Nickolas Grisham’s short, explores the coming together of two unlikely outcasts during the last week of school. (Just like MINOR SETBACK, a lot of the film’s strength is found in the connected performance between the two young female leads) Austin-based director/editor Grisham’s tale of a tough-girl rapper and the bullied violinist forging a friendship has a smart look, great acting and an undeniably effective tone.
MORE THAN FOUR HOURS deals with a High School teacher’s results of mixing up his prescriptions. Directed by Bryan Poyser (entrenched in the Austin film scene, Bryan also co-edited, SLASH, which is in the Texas Competition) the cast includes Schuyler Fisk and Andrew Edison. (Edison wrote, directed and starred in the 2012 DIFF Midnight Special BINDLESTIFFS)
Other Texas-related shorts also sharing a ‘DIFF alumni’ connection include Bentley Brown’s latest work. KHAWADJAT is a fascinating look, through use of home video, of how this Texan-born filmmaker began making films while a teenager in Chad. Brown somewhat revisits familiar territory, his FAISEL GOES WEST (which was filmed in Dallas) played The Dallas International Film Festival in 2013.
Frank Mosley is a long-time DIFF talent fixture. His roles, festival-wise, have covered everything from brooding mysterious types to skeptical doctors and even a salivating, human pet. While he doesn’t boast as much screen time as co-star Christian Palmer, Mosley’s performance in THE PROCEDURE can certainly be described as…memorable. Calvin Lee Reeder’s boundary-pushing and edgy, 4-minute experience (which took home the Sundance Jury Prize) was partly shot in Austin.
On an even darker note subject-wise is NOTHING HUMAN. Austin-based director Tom Rosenberg, takes a very direct, minimalist approach in his recount of the 2009 shooting at Fort Hood, TX. On November 5th, Major Nidal Hasan, a military psychiatrist, mass murdered 13 soldiers and wounded 32 others. Louis Akin, a forensics investigative expert reconstructs the horrific event. (An unfortunate connection can be found the similarity NOTHING HUMAN shares with Texas Competition film TOWER, which re-tells the story of the 1966 University of Austin tower sniper shootings)
The Dallas International Film festival rightfully owns its reputation as always having strong shorts programming. If seeking out this unique art form, you’ve come to the right place! From short narratives and docs to frightful tales and experimental animation, more so than ever – DIFF offers up a wealth of riches choice-wise. These are just a few of this year’s notable short films that happen to share a Texas thread.
DALLAS STAR AWARDOscar-nominated cinematographer Ed Lachman’s selected credits as a cinematographer include the Emmy nominated HBO mini-series Mildred Pierce and films including DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN, THE VIRGIN SUICIDES, and the Academy Award nominated film, CAROL.
DALLAS MAVERICK AWARDOur inaugural honoree, director, editor and producer Monte Hellman, has a career that spans six decades. He has exemplified cutting-edge filmmaking across multiple genres, working with budgets, from high-to-low, and with casts featuring stars to complete unknowns.