A Look At HOLLYSHORTS
By Jonathan Weichsel
Every year the Hollyshorts film festival presents the best short films from emerging filmmakers around the world to the Hollywood community. This is my third year reviewing Hollyshorts, and 2013 was the best festival to date.
I attended four screenings, the horror block, the drama block, the VFX block, and the alumni block. What follows are my favorite shorts from each block.
The horror block was much stronger this year than in years past. Last year, it was so God-awful that I couldn’t bring myself to review a single film. This year, there were so many amazing films that I had trouble deciding which ones to write about.
Horror is a genre that needs to break the rules in order to succeed. Nobody wants to watch horror that is safe, and when horror plays it safe is when it fails. The best films of the horror block were the ones that took risks and broke rules.
The Wound, directed by David Garrett, is a very David Cronenberg exploration of the Freudian concept of vagina dentata. The film is creepy as hell, and surprisingly suspenseful, but it also has a real sharp sense of humor
The Little Mermaid, directed by Nicholas Humphries, is a dark take on the short story that has a real sense of the wonder of the macabre. It also features amazing makeup work and effects.
Honeymoon Suite is a fun, crazy Chinese werewolf film. Honeymoon Suite, which really understands the werewolf genre and isn’t afraid to play with it, could have easily been called An American Werewolf in China.
Do You Believe in the Devil, directed by Alex Grybauskas, is a black comedy of manners about death and longing. The premise of the film is completely twisted, and asks hilariously absurd questions about the morality of killing.
Metamorphosis, directed by Dave Yohe and based on the Kafka story, features amazing special effects and very strong acting.
The drama section was overall very weak. It could have just as easily been called the melodrama section, and was full of dramatic clichés such as a woman talking to her therapist, 9/11, a woman confronting another woman in public who is having an affaire with her husband, an estranged brother serving as a foil for his more successful brother in a sports movie, a sexual taboo as the crux of dramatic conflict, and much, much more.
But there was one incredible drama in the bunch that stood way above the pack, and that was Moontown, directed by Jessica Garrison. Moontown worked where the other films in the block failed because it features characters that are both recognizable and unique, in a situation that is simultaneously believable and bizarre.
The FX block was, like last year, incredibly strong. As with the horror block, it was a struggle to decide which films to write about.
Illusion, directed by Jessica Hester, is completely unclassifiable, with elements of fantasy, surrealism, and whimsy thrown together to create a beautiful love story that alternates between warm and chilling, and beautiful and awe inspiring. The film is a real feast for the eyes.
When Kings Battle, directed by John Bucher, is dark, funny, and lots of fun. The plot is the same as the story of David and Bathsheba, with a king sending a subject out to die in order to get his wife. The costumes and production design have the whimsy and hint of insanity of Terry Gilliam.
Frost is about indigenous hunters in a frozen post apocalyptic wasteland. There is a real edge of your seat fight between the female hunter and a robotic security droid. Frost is absolutely enthralling and tells an incredible story without dialogue.
Un Monde Meilleur (A Better World) directed by Sacha Feiner, was the strongest film of the FX block. A Better World takes place in a comic version of a dystopian surveillance state, where even your dreams are monitored. In a hilarious denouement of bureaucracy, early on in the film a law is passed making it illegal to smile, because smiling interferes with facial recognition technology.
A Better World is made with the same anything goes spirit as Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, but at the same time it is that film’s polar opposite. This is a film that you just have to see.
The Alumni Block
The alumni block consisted of films by directors whose films have played at Hollyshorts in the past. Some of the films were really incredible
Vanishing Act, directed by Joshua Courtade, is a comedy done in the style of a silent film about a magician who performs a vanishing act. It features a lot of cool in-camera effects and a funny, slightly twisted plot.
Soylent, directed by Thea Green, is an awesome and edgy dramedy about a very angry man who owns a hotdog stand, who decides to get revenge on his vegan ex-girlfriends by tricking them into eating meat.
With Strangers, directed by JorDan Fuller, is a mature and uncomfortable drama about a married couple experimenting with partner swapping. The film is much more original that you would think it would be given its subject matter, and features the kind of acting where a look can say a lot.
Project Tennessee, by Peter Vass and Sam Milman, is a smart comedy disguised as a dumb comedy. I rarely laugh at comedy, but I found myself laughing so hard that tears were streaming down my cheeks.
Heavy, directed by Kim Noonan, takes a mature look at immaturity. This dramedy puts its character in what should be a mildly uncomfortable situation, but as the film plays out he exacerbates the awkwardness of the situation through his poor social skills and inability to pick up on social cues until he winds up making a total ass of himself.
And that’s it. Hollyshorts provides a great venue for emerging filmmakers to get their work out, and for festival-goers to discover new talent. It is quickly becoming one of the most important festivals in Hollywood.
The 10th Annual HollyShorts Film Festival will take place August 14-23, 2014 in Hollywood.