Tribeca Film Festival: A Roundup of 20 Shorts

A still from "Helium"
A still from “Helium”

Besides the wonderful hour-long documentary, “Of Many,” produced by Chelsea Clinton, I managed to see 20 of the shorts in the Tribeca Film Festival. Here’s a quick rundown; the first eight below are my favorites.

1. Duke and the Buffalo – This documentary about ranchers trying to save the buffalo is beautifully shot. Duke Phillips in Colorado works with The Nature Conservancy, gathering about 2,000 head of bison annually to be sold in order to prevent the land from being over-grazed. There is incredible footage of the drives taken overhead and alongside the ranchers.

2. La Carnada – This startling short drama is about a young boy on his first drug run from Mexico to the U.S. It has a twist at the end that made me say, “Oh, my God.” Of course, if you know Spanish, the title is sort of a giveaway.

3. The Boy Scout – This well-done story is about a couple stranded in their car in the snow. Due to the high quality writing, cinematography, and acting, they manage to create suspense in 14 minutes.

4. Nocturnity – This brave documentary is about a woman with sleep eating disorder. She installs a camera in her kitchen to catch herself in the act and discover who she is during the night when she doesn’t remember her own actions. It’s frightening to be that out of control, and she lets the camera see her raw pain about her plight. Bravo to her for being willing to let others see her footage. It was a moving and eye-opening 8 minutes.

5. Helium –  This Oscar-nominated foreign short is enchanting. A janitor at a hospital chats with a little boy who is dying and finds the concept of heaven boring. The man concocts a story of an after-death place called Helium that comforts the boy. You might question whether the man should do such a thing, but he even questions himself about it. As you watch the boy relax due to the story, you can’t help but applaud.

A still from "Duke and the Buffalo"
A still from “Duke and the Buffalo”

6. Peepers – This very funny, well-acted and shot film is about a couple who discover they’re being watched … or so they think. It causes them to have an outrageous meltdown as they imagine all of their stuff being judged by the “peepers” and as they begin to question everything they do in life.

7. The Phone Call – This touching story includes Sally Hawkins as a suicide hotline worker and the voice of Jim Broadbent when he calls the hotline to talk about his pain. It’s unusual to see name actors in a short, so it’s a treat. This film took the Best Narrative Short award in the Festival.

8. Showfolk – You’ll never find a group of more exciting elderly characters. This short documentary chats with people who once were in the entertainment industry, including Monica Lewis, who did the voice of the Chiquita Banana (she also dated Ronald Reagan), a woman who worked for Disney, and a man who worked on the Jackie Gleason show, among others.

9. 70 Hester Street – In this short documentary, the director explores the loss of old buildings and the memories that are contained within them. I found it only mildly interesting.

10. Day Ten – There is almost no dialogue in this film that deals with the helplessness and futility that New Yorkers felt in the days following 9/11. As someone who was in New York at that time, I can attest to the accuracy of this short.

A still from "The Phone Call"
Sally Hawkins in “The Phone Call”

11. Nesma’s Birds – This very short Iraqi film is about a little girl who cares for birds that belonged to her now-deceased father. Then, when she gets her period and becomes a woman, everything changes. I’d love to see a full-length film based on this short start.

12. One-Year Lease – This story is cleverly told through voice mail messages from the main characters’ cat-loving landlady. It’s funny and cute, and it won the Best Documentary Short award in the Festival.

13. Parachute – I didn’t care much for this very short piece about selfish and unfeeling bankers contemplating the loss of their money. At 8 minutes, it’s barely long enough to make more of a point than a commercial, although it’s well-shot, and the acting is reasonably good.

14. My Depression-A Picture Book – This is an animated version of Elizabeth Swados’ book by the same name. There are songs, and Sigourney Weaver narrates as the main character. I think this little film could be a bit of a relief to those who experience clinical depression. I thought the differences in Weaver’s voice and the singing voice (supposedly the same character) were a bit jarring, however.

15. For Spacious Sky – Of all the shorts I saw, this one seems the most prime for a full-length feature. Well-acted and apparently based on some truth, it’s the story of three brothers who are rekindling their relationship, each trying to recover from the trials of life – one from incarceration and a broken relationship, one from discrimination, and one from addiction. I was ready to see more.

A still from "Sker"
A still from “Sker”

16. Life After Manson – This is a compelling documentary about one of the women serving life in prison because of her involvement with Charles Manson. She examines her life and realizes that she was looking for love from such a desperate place that she allowed herself to be controlled. Tragic on so many levels.

17. The Next Part – This moving documentary follows a couple dealing with a returning soldier’s loss of both legs. Their love for one another and willingness to continue against all odds is inspiring and uplifting.

18. Sker – In this very short film, a man decides to kayak through the Icelandic fjords and gets himself into a sticky situation. It’s based on a true story and, of course, includes beautiful cinematography.

19. In Guns We Trust – I did not care for this short about a law in a southern town that requires everyone own a gun. It sounds like an interesting story, but even 12 minutes felt too long. Perhaps that is because a lot of stills were inexplicably used with voiceovers rather than video footage.

20. 30-year-old Bris – This is a ridiculously silly 10-minute comedy about a Jewish woman who expects her 30-year-old non-Jewish fiancé to be circumcised before they get married. It comes to life for a few minutes, however, when Chris Elliott shows up as a wacky mohel.


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