The New Directors/New Films Festival dedicated a night to the oft-overlooked short film collection, screening films from Romania, India, Greece and many more.
A short film collection is often neglected in a movie festival. With so many films being screened at the same time, the short films are often placed on one of the lower rungs for many of the filmgoers who are eager to soak up the myriad of great pictures. But short films are fascinating, giving you a glimpse into the artistic voice and vision of a nascent artist.
These pictures are small self-portraits that give the opportunity for a filmmaker to explore their personal underpinnings without putting on the financial and professional burden on themselves with a feature film. They give the artist a chance to delve into a topic, stylization and/or form without having to take the chances that a full-length film would require.
The Museum of Modern Art and Film Society of Lincoln Center have partnered for the 47th annual New Directors/New Films festival, showcasing the work of emerging young artists from around the world. Dedicating a night to the short film, a collection of them–aptly and rather pragmatically named “Short Programs 1”–was screened as part of the festival.
“Events in a Cloud Chamber” – Ashim Ahluwalia, India, 20m
Most film archivists agree that many films that have been made–including the experimental and the silent–have been lost over the years. Whether it has been misplaced after years of being shuffled around or simply degraded, a great deal of the world’s films have been lost. These orphan films require a great deal of archival work to dig them up to find these lost prints. But all that work sometimes doesn’t pay off.
In 1969, the renowned modernist Indian painter, Akbar Padamsee began experimenting with other mediums. Much like his counterparts in the art community in the US and Europe began experimenting with film (due to the advent of cheaper, more mobile cameras and film rolls), Padamsee began realizing the inherent artistic value that film has to offer. The ability to experiment with temporality, texture and the medium specificity of art gave people like Padamsee a new canvas. Unfortunately, this 16mm work was yet another addition to the orphan film collection. Undeterred, director Ashim Ahluwalia began working with the 89 year-old filmmaker to remake the film. What emerges is a touching, experimental documentary that unpacks the fragility of time, age and the arts.
“Old Luxurious Flat Located in an Ultra-central, Desirable Neighborhood / Apartment” – Sebastian Mihăilescu, Romania, 19m
Rumination is perhaps one of the mind’s worst enemies. While some use it to reflect deep decisions and heartbreaking revelations, others let it fester their darkest thoughts, turning into a literal echo-chamber wherein nothing comes in and nothing comes out. That is the case for our protagonist in Sebastian Mihăilescu, who uses this short film to explore the human mind’s worst enemy–itself.
The short tells the story of a husband and wife who seem to be drifting apart due to financial issues. With a last-ditch effort to sell their car, the wife decides to meet with a former high school friend who works in an auto shop. The husband is left to fester with his own thoughts, whose descend into a mind of jealousy, frustration and humiliation grows increasingly more dire as the night progresses. With a dark and deliberate pacing, the film uses lighting and duration to reflect on the mind’s slow descend into mild-mannered madness–that is, the madness of the middle class.
“Spiral Jetty” – Ricky D’Ambrose, USA, 2017
“Spiral Jetty” tells the story of a young, lauded author whose late-father was at one point also a celebrated individual in his field of psychology. But with new facts and information coming out about her father, it seems his reputation might be on the line. Vying to stop her the rescindment of her father’s legacy, his author daughter hires a young archivist to clean his supposedly sordid past and thus help reimagine him as the person she and others remember him by.
With a whiff of Northeastern intellectualism and a dash of Bresson-inspired formalism, Ricky D’Ambrose’s newest short film is revelatory. Relishing in the minutiae of books, recordings, pictures and other Wes Anderson-like mise-en-scene inserts, the film incorporate voice overs with a delectable sense of fragility and compassion. And while D’Ambrose has remained in the short film world for nearly ten years now (having made his first project a feature), the esoteric director should think about expanding some of these New York-centric tales into full-length films.
“Manodopera” – Loukianos Moshonas, France/Greece, 28m
Perhaps the most narratively driven of the other shorts featured in the program, Manodopera is also the most thoughtful and insightful–perhaps simply due to the film’s longer duration. But regardless of the film’s sense of timing, it is yet another fascinating and wondrous addition to the shorts featured in the program.
Telling the story of an older Albanian worker (who looks and plays more like an older, Mediterranean version of James Dean) who is working to renovate an apartment with a young, upper-class man. As the months go by and the two begin to bond over beer and beliefs, which subsequently begins affecting the young man’s views on life.
The French/Greek collaborative film does an excellent job of demonstrating the humanity that exists even in the most unlikely of places. The existential crisis that the two seem to be undergoing is palpable. They smash away at cement blocks, tearing down walls within this decaying flat, just as it seems they are within their own lives, confronting the blocks of their lives that seem to be anchoring them down. The metaphor is rather unoriginal and tacky but when it is coupled with the insightful dialogue and breathtaking cinematography, one seldom notices it, instead letting it wash over you as a meditative experience.
“Nyo Wveta Nafta” – Ico Costa, Portugal/Mozambique, 21m
In yet another continuation of his foray into African filmmaking, the Portuguese filmmaker returns yet again with “Nyo Wveta Nafta.” But this will mark the first time that Costa has not written the screenplay, allowing the director instead to focus on the form, stylization and narrative.
The film allows itself to drift, casually meandering between narratives, viewpoints and temporalities. Costa adeptly captures the easygoing spontaneity of Mozambique life, giving each of his characters the opportunity to breath, and yet not enough (perhaps due to the duration of the film) to actually delve into the depth of characterization. But with a 16mm shot, sweeping, casual approach to the visualization, “Nyo Wveta Nafta” is a charming, beautiful and elegant film that works to make its viewers understand the underpinnings and individuals of Mozambique, and specifically Inhambane and Maputo.
These short films were screened as part of The New Directors/New Films Festival.