By Ross Bembenek
One of the things I love about the Heartland Film Festival is the emphasis they put on short films. Every year I can count on there being a handful of solid shorts, and this year was no different. Something I didn’t expect, however, was seeing an entire block of short films that was fantastic all the way through. Shorts Program 12 (the After Hours shorts) was the perfect way to end my Saturday night, with all ten films providing a genuinely enjoyable experience. In order of appearance:
“Second to None” (dir. Vincent Gallagher)
Shorts Program 12 came swinging right out of the gate. “Second to None” is a grisly, darkly comedic claymation film about a jealous man who’s been awarded 2nd oldest person on Earth but has a deadly plan to claim first place. Shocking in its violence but filled to the brim with hilarious gags, “Second to None” is a worthwhile treat.
“Memento Mori” (dir. Scott James Bassett)
A depressed young woman’s romantic rendezvous takes a turn for the worse when she finds out her date is the physical embodiment of Death, and he’s super lonely. This is dark, funny, and surprisingly touching with really cool production design. The acting dips a bit in the middle and it feels a bit too long, but it’s an enjoyable experience overall.
“Dangerous Games” (dir. Daria Nazarova)
A garage drug deal where those involved are up to more games than just drugs. If I said anymore it would ruin the film’s twist ending. This was my least favorite of the program. Nothing about it really jumped out at me, but there is decent writing and acting and a couple of good laughs.
“Unsatisfying” (dir. Parallel Studio)
Literally just an animated compilation of frustrating, unenjoyable, and just plain unsatisfying things that happen in everyday life. A claw machine drops the toy just before you get it from the machine. A candy bar gets stuck in the vending machine. That kind of stuff. Really weird and experimental, but I found myself laughing more often than not.
“Asteria” (6 directors)
A manned mission to a deep space celestial body takes an unexpected turn when aliens show up at the same time humans do. It looks like a kids short and it feels like one too. That is, until it gets really violent about half way through. Really good animation, good jokes, and a fun little storyline.
“Garden Party” (6 directors)
A deserted mansion riddled with bullet holes, clearly the result of some violent shootout. That’s just the setting. The focus is some cute lil’ frogs just hopping along and having a good time in the carnage. The action provides a good contrast to the setting, which brings a lot of laughs. The animation is absolutely stunning and those frogs are just delightful.
“Citipati” (dir. Andreas Feix)
A small dinosaur falls prey to the mass extinction, but as it dies its mind races through its situation. Honestly, there’s not a whole lot of story here. I was pretty confused for a while about what exactly was going on. Is it all in the dino’s head or is it all real? Either way, the film doesn’t do a great job distinguishing. That being said, the animation in this one is absolutely perfect. Our lead dino looks and feels like a living, breathing being. The animation alone brings the score up on this one.
“Mother” (dir. Rodrigo Sorogoyen)
A young mother receives a phone call from her 6-year-old son, who tells her that his dad has disappeared and that he’s all alone on a deserted foreign beach. There is a race against the clock to find him. Talk about tension. Even at only 18 minutes, this one left me emotionally drained. The cast give killer performances. Also: the whole first half of the film was all done in one take! It is beautiful, Birdman-esque cinematography. Director Rodrigo Sorogoyen deserves a pat on the back for this one. Exquisite work.
“All That You Love Will Be Carried Away” (dir. Tom Barbor-Might)
A middle-aged woman tries to write the perfect suicide note for her husband. An adaptation of a Stephen King short story, this was honestly the darkest of the dark comedies I saw in this block. It balances the macabre and the comedic in a way that just feels perfectly natural. But hey, that’s King for you. Great work from lead actress Lesley Sharp and cinematographer Aadel Nodeh-Farahani. Barbor-Might’s direction really helps guide the film to its tense conclusion. This was my favorite film of the program, and one of my favorites of the festival as a whole.
“Gridlock” (dir. Ian Hunt Duffy)
A traffic jam on a country road turns into a race against the clock as a father searches for his missing daughter. Super tense, showcasing themes of desperation and mob rule. It’s a powerful story with a decent twist at the end, but the film is dragged down by an unnecessary comedic relief character and some really weird cinematography.