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NBFF 2017 Review: Animated, Irish & Horror Shorts

Wrapping up my coverage of this year’s Newport Beach Film Festival, I wanted to shine the spotlight on some of the short film programs I was able to see. Thanks to some hype created by my lovely girlfriend, I was particularly excited to see the animated and Irish short programs but was also able to see a set of horror shorts as well. There is always plenty to admire in these films, as they must tell a full story in a limited amount of time while also showing off a level of cinematic talent from newer and veteran filmmakers alike. Here are some thoughts on the short films in particular that stuck out to me in the programs I saw.

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Blind Vaysha

Theodore Ushev’s Blind Vaysha was nominated for an Academy Award and it was well-deserved. This story of a girl who sees the past out of her left eye and the future from her right had my attention when I originally saw it earlier this year and continues to be a fascinating watch. Narrated by Montreal actress Caroline Dhavernas (of Hannibal fame), the use of music and a bold, yet somewhat rough, animation style really helps to hold this whole thing together. It tells a story fit for those who enjoy fables and manages to go even deeper by the time it reaches its conclusion. At only 8 minutes, it’s another reminder as to just how much impact a film can have, no matter the length.

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Day Off

Part of what makes shorts so interesting to watch is that sense of discovery. With only a small amount of time, learning certain pieces of information during the runtime have a way of continually resonating, because the story will have to come to a close so soon after said realization. Day Off effectively guides the viewer down this path, as it tells the story of Laura (Dawn Bradfield), a woman who gets the chance to have a day to herself, only to go back to a more challenging life for the rest of the week. Upon learning what is going on, it becomes clear that writer Peter McNamara and director Stephen Hall have constructed a scenario that is certainly difficult but affecting for what it means to see these characters and the position they are in. This is another Irish film that plays up some of the somber aspects of life, but one could take in a level of optimism that presents itself towards the end, however fleeting it may be.

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Fox And The Whale

All of these animated shorts have their own unique style, but Fox and the Whale was one that certainly stuck out more than many. Maybe that’s just what happens when you combine stylized-looking animals, pastel colors and effective piano music. Regardless, this story concerns a fox that goes in search of an elusive whale, which leads to plenty of neat encounters. Many may try to come up with meaning for this one and no interpretation is wrong, but the main intrigue comes from seeing this 12-minute short play out and continue to impress with the visuals on display.

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Gridlock

Packing in an intense and very human story into 20 minutes can be difficult, but that’s exactly what Gridlock manages to do. Director Ian Hunt Duffy and writer Darach McGarrigle open up a relatable situation for any parent and ramp up the complications as things go on. A man leaves his car during a traffic jam to see what the holdup is, only to come back and find that his daughter is missing. His intense search leads to the introduction of several characters (most of them quite effective) and leads to more and more possibilities. One may or may not be able to predict where it is all headed, but I couldn’t deny feeling caught up in this journey and really wanting everyone to learn what really happened.

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Kookie

There is plenty to gain from creating an effectively creepy image. Kookie tells the story of a girl punished for taking too many cookies from the cookie jar by having to risk taking them out of a very scary-looking jar that may even be haunted. Director Justin Harding knows how to have fun with this premise, as he carefully frames shots and tracks the 9-year old girl in a way that builds plenty of tension. The scares that come out of this are effectively done as well and the brevity of the film means maximizing whatever jolts are supposed to come. Fortunately, the jolts match this engaging little thriller and the offbeat soundtrack only further helps move things along.

 

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The Model

The Model did a lot to keep me smiling. Director Stephen Cunnane takes his audience through a short, but inspired trip through his workstation, thanks to a model figure that comes to life. Some impressive visual effects lead to an enjoyable bit of fun, as the figure performs actions that line up with animated drawings reflected back at it. With only so much time to get across any sort of narrative, The Model may be purely about showing off the visuals, but there is still a lot of entertainment to take out of this project, with an end beat that serves as a fun kicker.

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Ropes In Life (Cuerdos En La Vida)

Taking a step away from hand-drawn, CG and stop-motion animation here is Ropes in Life, which takes things back to puppets. Mexican filmmaker Gerardo Gonzalez Perez puts all kind of life into these creations, as we watch the story of a boy essentially looking to break free of his strings, despite others trying to hold him back. The wonderful puppet designs add plenty to this short, as we see another film full of personality that no doubt has some personal layers within it as well. No strings hold this film down from accomplishing something with a moody atmosphere, yet still plenty engrossing.

 

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The Scared One (L’effraye)

There is a lot to like in The Scared One, which makes it a shame that it didn’t quite come together for me. That said, I really did want to point it out, as directors Romain Lafargue and Thibault Lafargue certainly show how much potential they have as filmmakers. Shot in black and white and making great use of sound, this story of a boy being stalked in his room by a scarecrow does plenty to frighten those not sure what to make of the night. Working very well with negative space, the tension building is something to take note of, as we feel like we are right there with the young boy, who is doing all he can to keep quiet in the most dangerous of moments. If only the final minutes could have satisfied more.

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Sisyphus

There is a lot to like about writer/director Eric J. Wright’s Sisyphus. This stop motion animated short is a take on the classic Greek myth character and the punishment he endures. We watch this tiny, odd-looking clay figure move a large boulder up a large hill, only to repeat the challenge again and again. There are some twists to the narrative, which only serve to make the character more endearing and the short, as a whole, wonderfully poignant. As with many of these animated shorts, there is a lack of dialogue, which actually allows for even more discovery on the part of the audience. Having the chance to form an interpretation is always a big part of these films and Sisyphus does enough in its presentation to heavily satisfy.

***

Uisce Beatha (Water of Life)

Here’s another short film with personal drama written all over it. It concerns Bebhinn (played by writer/director/producer Elaine Kennedy), a London-living banker who has come back to visit her parents in rural Ireland. There are clearly things to be addressed between the different family members, but a whole new situation presents itself one night, which could turn things in a new direction entirely. Wonderfully shot and featuring some solid performances, Uisce Beathe does plenty to nail the emotions needed to make the film work as a whole. It also gets bonus points for how the lambs we see look on camera (the film is set on a farm after all).

***

Waste

Waste feels very close to what it could be if Wes Anderson were to involve himself in a horror film. The portrayal of food actually holds the film away from being in that director’s line of work, but one could see what director Justine Raczkiewicz was going for in blending genres. Waste tells the story of a detached and quiet man discovering the oddities of his roommate’s eating habits. Some striking imagery and certain surprises amp things up, but the film plays more like a sweet comedy with a dark twist more than anything. With only so much time to tell a story, I could only imagine where things would go if had more time, which is not necessarily something I would be against.

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Click on the poster to visit the Newport Beach Film Festival website,
and be sure to check back to Why So Blu throughout the week
for more of my coverage of the festival!

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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