The following six films were featured in a collection of shorts presented by the 2015 Flyway Film Festival. There wasn't quite an universal theme, beyond mature subject matter, but most focused on traumatic experiences.
Unlike full-feature length movie reviews, most of these will be brief, much like the films themselves.
As a reviewer, I do my best to avoid giving away any major spoilers that may potentially ruin that “magic” people embrace when experiencing something for the first time. I know firsthand just how much of a letdown they [spoilers] can be. If some information seems unavoidable, a “Spoiler Warning” label will be stationed at the beginning and end of said discussion, allowing readers to continue and/or skip ahead as they so choose. If you comment below, after the review, please be mindful of this and try to avoid any spoilers. If doing so, please make sure to label that a spoiler is coming up and when it ends in your discussion.
Daddy's Little Girl
Director: Chad McClarnon
Writers: Marshal McClarnon III, Chad McClarnon
Stars: Robin-August Fritsch (Little Girl), Michael Kitts (Daddy)
Runtime: 5 Minutes
Synopsis: A precocious little girl uses her self-taught science knowledge to finally tackle the problem of her abusive alcoholic father head on.
Daddy's Little Girl was the shortest of the selections featured in the collection, but oddly the one that demanded I suspend my disbelief the most. Considering the story seemed to be grounded in actual reality, I kept asking myself where the hell this little girl could have found all these medical supplies and equipment. As for procedures, I guess there's always the internet and Google...
It was only a temporary nuance, though, as the film progressed, and the story unfolded using imagery over dialog. The very few lines delivered in the film were ample enough to clarify what the plot was and why it was happening. The director did an excellent job at building up to the climax, even injecting subtle underlying dark humor, leading to a satisfying payoff for the audience.
I especially liked how the cinematography of the film's opening scenes evoked a variety of emotions from me, mostly unsettling, and the song choice during the credits. I'd be interested to see more, longer, projects from this director.
Director: Jen West
Writers: Jen West
Stars: Eleanore Pienta (Madeline), Hannah Gross (Ana), Chris Watson (Daniel)
Runtime: 10 Minutes
Synopsis: An eccentric composer in the 1950's is given a magical instrument that distorts her relationships.
I'm not sure how, but I feel that I knew Little Cabbage would be different from the beginning. I'm not talking different as in being a period piece, which was a strong point for the film, just... different.
The film's setting, costume design, and beginning cinematography pulled me into the world being laid out before me. During the opening scene, despite my gut feeling, I believed the plot was going to be light — possibly corny — focusing on romance. As the story progressed, however, there was a moment when I thought there may be a thriller/horror element coming on. This is brought about by the first interactions between the two leading ladies (Pienta and Gross playing Madeline and Ana respectively). They have great chemistry, and were able to create a subdued, yet obvious, feeling of tension between their two characters.
While romance was a theme throughout the film, unfortunately I didn't feel much chemistry present between Pienta and Watson, who played the love interest, Daniel. Though, this could be because of the sudden shift that takes place soon after the relationship is introduced. After that point, it's hard to develop a connection between any of the characters that feels genuine.
Once Madeline receives a gift, a seemingly harmless harmonica, my previous intuitive foreshadowing bore its fruit. From there, the film begins a steady slide into the abstract. When the synopsis states "distorts her relationships", it really means "distorts her reality". Scenes become disjointed, jumbled, and confusing. It's hard to determine if a scene is a flashback, a figment of Madeline's imagination, a dream/nightmare. All of the above. Actors/Characters swap roles, solidifying your instinct to not trust what you're seeing. Until you hit the point of giving up trying to figure out what's going on altogether. That the director is just fucking with your head for the sake of fucking with your head.
And while that may sound negative, it's not meant to be, because I think it was intentional. To start from a place that felt secure, grounded, and made sense, only to spiral out of control to an ending that is so detached from reality, you aren't sure what's real anymore.
In a Q & A, after the viewing, the director was asked what her inspiration for Little Cabbage was. I believe, if I remember correctly (and I apologize if mistaken), it was inspired by a story about a woman who was institutionalized, thought to be crazy, but it turns out that her behavior was induced by drugs. Hearing that really made me appreciate the short a lot more, helping to clarify why she took the film in the direction she did.
She even hinted at another project that further explores the mystery (and possibly origins) of the magical harmonica (my guess is Voodoo). I'd be lying if I said I wasn't really curious about how this future feature turns out.
From the Sky
Director: Ian Ebright
Writers: Ian Ebright
Stars: Maz Siam (Hakeem), Mohamad Tamimi (Abbas), Steven Soro (Dhiya), Georges Chalhoub (Samir)
Runtime: 18 Minutes
Synopsis: A humble father and his troubled son struggle to cope with the effect of drones in the Middle East.
After a son (Georges Calhoub) and father (Maz Siam) are approached by a pair of wandering resistance fighters (Mohamad Tamimi and Steven Soro), a bout of conflicting ideologies begins, forcing some of those involved to question their beliefs and how they choose to live their lives.
From the Sky, a foreign, sub-titled feature, was one of the longer pieces presented. The film's pacing is slow, but it's laced with so much engaging dialogue that it was over before I knew it. I found the topics discussed and the heightened tension between the characters that engrossing.
The performances of the actors, specifically between Chalhoub and Siam, and then Siam and Soro, is the driving force of the film. If the actors weren't able to convince the audience of the passionate convictions these characters held dear, it would have likely fallen flat. But they do a superb job at doing so, and the director made excellent use of tight shots to add to the building tension growing between them.
One caveat I had with the film, though, was the lack of some scenes that I felt would have added greater impact to the story, if the director had implemented them. Without giving too much away, it's a pivotal turn in the story that beckons to the entire overarching moral the film seems to be addressing. Instead of capitalizing on this moment, utilizing it to deepen the connection between viewers and the film's characters, it's more or less glossed over. Understanding that you don't have to necessarily show everything, I believe it was a missed opportunity to enhance both the drama and and decisions that followed.
Despite my brief disappointment explained above, the film is solid and delivers a message that is important for everyone, especially in a time when the world at large is teeming with despair and violence, that hate begets hate.
Director: Christopher Soren Kelly
Writers: Clark D. Schaefer
Stars: Jessica Graham (Lila), Christopher Soren Kelly (Gimmie)
Runtime: 15 Minutes
Synopsis: When Lila and Gimmie's toxic relationship explodes and they're faced with life or death, their angels and demons battle to save or destroy them.
Monkeys was the main feature that brought me to the Flyway Film Festival. Christopher Soren Kelly, who both acted in and directed the film, is someone I've been a fan of since seeing his performance in Ink (a movie directed by Jamin Winans that I always highly recommend).
This telling of a highly dysfunctional, chaotic relationship between two kindred spirits was more intense than I had originally expected. The characters Gimmie and Lila, brought to life by Kelly and his counterpart Jessica Graham respectively, are fueled by an almost uncontrollable self-destructiveness. Both actors give great performances in their roles, providing the audience ample insight into the tortured souls of these two lovers.
The setting of a single room apartment, used in multiple scenes depicting different time frames and lives, is manicured appropriately in separate segments to reflect the moments Gimmie and Lila experience together, and also independently. This also really helps build the spiritual bonding between the two characters, as scenes flash back and forth between them. Some of the cinematography reminded me of Ink, but then again, I may just be partial to the film. Either way, the method the scenes are depicted and interlaced is fairly stylized, and helps propel the story forward coherently, to a dramatic end, despite moments of surreal interactions.
Jessica Graham mentioned during the Q & A what the role meant to her, stating how that very much could have been her life in the past, had she made different choices. I'd imagine it helped channel that energy to tackle the role, but exhausting to relive. When asked about what inspired the title, Chris Kelly mentioned a handful of sources, from the characters having monkey tattoos (which I didn't think was highlighted enough, easy to distinguish, or I just completely missed it), to all of the characters and personalities involved, to a deeper more spiritual meaning held by the film's writer, Clark D. Schaefer.
Personally, I feel that the title embraced the idiom "a monkey on your back", referencing one's habits and/or addictions. Lila was addicted to drugs and suffers from what I assume to be acute mental illness (a topic I may go into on my I, Jak blog), while Gimmie is addicted to Lila, allowing himself to be continually pulled into her tumultuous world.
Christopher Soren Kelly and Jessica Graham mesh so well together, possibly enhanced by their external relationship, that I'm really excited to see their future work together, particularly in The Tangle, an upcoming full-length feature film written and directed by Kelly. This also includes following along with any of their independent projects I may have missed, especially Graham who I hadn't seen a performance from before Monkeys.
Director: Peter J. McCarthy
Writers: Ben Conway, Peter J. McCarthy, Kevin McCarthy
Stars: Sam Lucas Smith (Sam), Ben Condren (Kyle), Clara Harte (Emma), Ryan McParland (Xav), Patrick Gibson (James)
Runtime: 13 Minutes
Synopsis: When a bully is exposed for who he is, how will he react?
Out in the woods, Sam (Sam Lucas Smith) is looking for his childhood friend Emma (Clara Harte), but what he stumbles upon is a little more than he anticipated. In Peter J. McCarthy's Hunters Fall we find the timid Sam pitted again a rambunctious trio of friends, one of which, Kyle (Ben Condren), is cusrrently Emma's love interest.
A major highlight of the film was the chosen costume design and natural camaraderie between the three friends, Kyle; Xav (Ryan McParland); and James (Patrick Gibson) throughout the film, especially when they are first introduced. You would think the actors had been actual friends for years in real life, nothing about the dynamic seemed forced. Something about the choice of makeup and attire really added a more unique feel for the characters as individuals. Xav's tie on his jacket's shoulder was one of my personal favorites.
As for the trio of ruffians, I felt a nostalgic callback to similar groups of antagonists from shows in my childhood. Stand By Me and Back to the Future, specifically Kyle reminding me of Biff from the latter (someone during the Q & A cited the original Straw Dogs, with Dustin Hoffman, a film I haven't yet seen). You have an Alpha Male, the second in command, who is generally an asshole (aside from the Alpha Male), and then the timid, boyish member who endures the constant harassment of his friends. Throughout the film, though, I never felt they were overly threatening to the main protagonist, Sam. Maybe a few menacing undertones, but never flat out hostile. Until some revelations come about.
I suppose that is where I question things. To me, Sam comes off slightly creepy and stalker-like. Very standoffish and eventually becomes intentionally abrasive. However, he's supposedly the "good guy" and it's a bit off-putting. Maybe it was the way he just stood and stared intensely without barely speaking throughout most of the film. Either way, it seemed that the encounter featured in the film could have remained fairly low-key and peaceful, if not for a character stoking the fire. I find it odd I was more intrigued and interested in the bullies than having much empathy for their victim.
Hunters Falls ends somewhat abruptly, just after things begin to get really interesting, leaving you curious about what events are about to follow, but [for myself] feeling confused.
During the Q & A, McCarthy was asked what advice he gave to Coldren, McParland, and Gibson before filming, to enhance their performances. I believe the director said he asked each to focus on specific events in their life and to harness those raw emotions, bringing them to the forefront when playing their roles. Whatever helped the three of them portray their pseudo friendship, it worked. It was definitely one of my favorite aspects of the film!
Long Distance Calling
Director: Andrew Gitomer
Writers: Andrew Gitomer
Stars: Genevieve Hudson-Price (Annalies), Michael McKiddy (Lucas), Caleb Bark (Mr. X)
Runtime: 17 Minutes
Synopsis: 'Long Distance Calling' follows Annalies, a young woman struggles with her life in New York after her boyfriend moves to L.A.
As the synopsis implies, Long Distance Calling is a story focusing on the complications of getting over a break up, while simultaneously attempting to inject oneself back into the dating pool. This feature is more a romantic comedy than a drama, which I feel works well for it. Sure there are some deeper emotions and serious content involved, but they are kept light and humorous.
Throughout the film, in between Annalies's supportive friends assisting her to kick the ex to the curb for good and to have fun, we find her and her said ex, Lucas (McKiddy), communicating online, via Skype (or some other similar video chatting service). I thought these moments were really touching, if a little stilted. The conversations flow well enough, and they added a lot of the heart and humor (like talking idly about a burrito, which for some reason I thought was hilarious, and moments where the live stream/feed freezes), and really, if this were a real situation between two people undergoing the same circumstances, it comes off genuine. The stilted awkwardness makes it feel more believable.
But then enter Mr. X (Bark), who seems to be just thrown into the mix for the sake of offering a possible love interest to confuse the protagonist even more. Or so I thought. Mr. X, while he may be viewed as a romantic interest, soon reveals himself to be more of a supernatural entity. He appears at pivotal moments of Annalies's life, perhaps as she is considering "giving up" and reuniting with Lucas, offering flirty quips and exposing magic like qualities, before disappearing again, as mysteriously as his arrival. Thus always leaving Annalies in a state of confused longing.
The interactions Annalies has with her every day friends feel realistic, and the film seems to focus on being based in actual reality. One of my favorite moments is when she is visiting with her friend, Georgie (credited as Lonely Christopher on IMDb). It just felt real. I loved Georgie's personality and how the two interact. Though, I must say, Georgie may be a bit of a flawed character, because at one point he is cursing out his roommate who has a The Dark Crystal poster on his door, so really, how bad could he be? Maybe he's just an angry drunk.
Regardless, those moments feel natural and grounded in reality, while the Mr. X factor completely dislodges you from that, making you question if the film is actually a fantasy piece (or maybe if Annalies is delusional). It doesn't ruin the film, far from it, but it makes one question the premise, regardless of the symbolic purpose the character may represent. Another aspect of the short that I questioned, and maybe I missed it (like the inside joke almost the entire audience laughed at, leaving me clueless — though addressed in the Q &A, which I unfortunately didn't fully hear), was whether or not Annalies and Lucas were actually broken up, and if so, the basis behind it.
From my understanding, Annalies begins to regret not going out to L.A. with her boyfriend (at the time) where he took up a new job. This implies she was asked to go, instead staying in New York, attempting a long distance relationship (an aspect from which I thought the title was derived from). It's clear on Lucas's end that he still loves her. Annalies, on the other hand, despite keeping in touch, seems over her ex lover, or is at least completely open to new romantic interests (as strongly implied by the scenes involving Mr. X). I feel the film tragically attempts to tarnish Lucas in the eyes of the viewers, though no sound reason is given as to why. The most we get is from Georgie, again in his drunken state, who claims Lucas was simply boring. Personally, the more I learned as the film's plot progressed, the more I felt empathy for Lucas, and the less I cared about Annalies's issues.
In the end, though, Long Distance Calling is a cute short. One that does a terrific job at keeping the mood light and fluffy, though exploring the emotional hangups that a break up can cause, which I'm sure everyone has experienced at least once in their life. However, I could have done without the random mystical element thrown in.
Director: Gregory Bishop
Writers: Gregory Bishop
Stars: Rebecca Cofta, Luke Christianson, Peter Campagna
Runtime: 10 Minutes
Synopsis: A young woman's journey through her subconscious sanctuary, amidst a worldwide cataclysm.
Unfortunately Winterlude, while printed on the docket for the evenings Late Night Short Films collection, wasn't shown shown at the screening. Perhaps it was moved to a different event held during the Flyway Film Festival. It sounds very interesting and personally I really like the title! Another time perhaps...
Late Night Short Films
Overall, I was very pleased with the films presented at this particular film festival's event. They all offered entertainment, each in it's own fashion, and never once did I feel stir crazy. My attention was solely focused on the stories unfolding before me. I wish I had time to watch all of the films presented.
The chosen location for the event, Villa Bellezza, in the town of Pepin, WI was beautiful and I look forward to attending the festival in the years to come! If in the area (I am an hour and a half out), I highly recommend visiting, whether for the Flyway Film Festival, or just for leisure. You won't regret it!
Were you able to attend the Flyway Film Festival 8? If so, what were some of your favorite films and/or moments? What was your overall experience? Have you ever attended other film festivals? If so, which and what were your favorite experiences from them? Anything you would recommend to those looking to attend a film festival?
Have you ever submitted a film to a film festival? If so, what was the experience like? What are some complications that may arise when trying to submit a film? Any advice for those looking to submit their projects?
Out of the films reviewed, which one(s) would you have interest in seeing?
Any constructive feedback on what you liked about my reviews and/or what you feel it lacks and how it could be improved is much appreciated!