NEXT-GEN SHORTS PROGRAM 1 @ NASHVILLE FILM FESTIVAL
For the sixth year in a row, I attended the Nashville Film Festival. The first screening was reminiscent of how an evening at the cinema used to begin, albeit before my time, with short subjects. The Next-Gen Shorts Program offered eight shorts by up-and-coming filmmakers.
The program began with Michael Abay’s Klette, an up-close and personal look at a young Hatian Creole woman living in Amsterdam and navigating the transition to adulthood. Her friends, either doctoral students or recent doctorate recipients, gather for picnic lunches in the park to discuss buying houses and planning weddings. She joins them, but only after having changed out of a formal ball gown she had apparently worn to a party the night before and arguing with her mother about the relative merits of moving into an apartment with her friend Morgane. (The mom is in favor of the move, but Klette throws every excuse in the book at it). As her friends at the picnic discuss their plans, she sneaks off and tips back a bottle of CBD oil. It’s an intense, unflinching look at anxiety.
The next film, Sleeve, introduces us to a teenage girl named Katie, who has no real desire to attend a huge, wild party her friends are throwing. Once she’s at the party, a series of slow-motion shots reveal why: when she gets nervous, a sentient sock puppet grows on her arm and begins to dominate the party. We are treated to the sock puppet smoking, drinking, playing Spin-The-Bottle, and making out with a human. If that sounds hilarious, it is. Sleeve was directed, furthermore, by one Logan Peach, a film production student at Nashville’s own David Lipscomb University. Once a bastion of rigid conservatism, if this is typical of the product of Lipscomb students, the school is on track to have an impact on popular culture beyond its most famous alumni, Amy Grant.
After Sleeve came the delightful and somewhat bittersweet animated short How To Make Cheddar, directed by Hyung Song An. The titular Cheddar is a cat named Cheddar, who, unlike his feline siblings, acts human all his life. He is thus rewarded with a job catching mice at a cheese factory (which, of course, also makes cheddar). Unfortunately, Cheddar is too good at his job, and when all the mice are removed, he has to switch to being a cheesemaker. Unsatisfied by this life –save for the cheese sandwiches he eats at lunch–he’s finally adopted by humans to live as a pet…and as he leaves, we see a single mouse emerge from the factory wall.
The delightful Cheddar is followed by Ben Kreuger’s Russian-language film The Bet. A judge and a lawyer are debating the relative merits of execution vs. life imprisonment, when the judge makes the titular bet: if the lawyer can spend 5 years in solitary confinement without seeing another human being, the lawyer will receive two million rubles. The lawyer takes the bet, but ups the ante, suggesting he can actually do fifteen years. I’ll go ahead and tell you that the lawyer wins his bet, but given the epiphanies both he and the judge have during that time, I’m actually not spoiling the big reveal–which dropped the theatre’s collective jaws.
In the wake of the ponderously heavy Bet, we’re ready for Christian Kauffman’s animated Town Hall Square. The film is about a NYC Subway of the same name, whose stationmaster lives a repetitive, dull life of sweeping the station and listening to baseball games on the radio in his booth. The game is interrupted by a news story about a tiger escaping the zoo; the tiger in question wastes no time in showing up at the booth, changing the radio station (and breaking the radio), and running away. Like Cheddar, it’s funny and touching.
Not at all funny, and touching in entirely different ways, is Primero, Sueno (first, dream) by Andres Luna. This film is oddly hypnotic, lingering as it does on protracted shots of migrant farm workers in California; as we watch the shots, we hear in voice-over (in Spanish with English subtitles) what can only be described as horror stories from the farm workers. One woman picking oranges falls off of a ladder, injures her back, then gets back up and continues working. Another says of the Amricans for whom she labors that “there’s not a single American that would do those jobs”. It’s hard to not feel accused by the film and I rather suspect that’s the point.
If Sueno depresses, we are then lifted back into comedy with Jonathan Gotlib’s Hebrew-language Star Struck. As a child, the main character is bullied for, of all things, not being able to play the recorder. He finally learns and, as an adult, is the best recorder player in the world, an international celebrity (In this world, recorders aren’t annoying, I suppose). As an adult, he meets his bully again, who…explains, at last, what the bullying was about: The bully, is seems, is the last survivor of his home planet, which was destroyed by a meteor known as The Big Rock–which Rock, it seems, would have destroyed Earth as well if our protagonist had not learned to play the recorder. The film’s finale is somewhere between Twelve Monkeys and Kurt Vonnegut.
The last, and in many ways strongest, short was Joshua Nathan’s The Basics of Love, a romantic comedy about a couple named Lefty and Elizabeth (Jake Millgard and Ashley August, both incredible). You know how rom-coms usually feature couples with glamorous jobs that few real people actually have? This one doesn’t. These characters are garbage workers in Fresno, California.
We watch them go about their route and survive an armed robbery, and we watch them engage in the slow will they-won’t they dance we all know so well. It’s an endearing and well-crafted film, and it’s a lovely endpiece for this set of shorts.
Did this short programme have a theme? I think they do. All these films are about people searching for meaning, for place, for some kind of personal victory. Some find it, some don’t. Life is like that.