Members of the Liberian Red Cross carry a dead Ebola victim through a neighborhood in the nation's capitol, Monrovia in "Body Team 12"
A still from "A Mighty Nice Man" starring Billy Magnussen
A still from “A Mighty Nice Man” starring Billy Magnussen

The short films in the Tribeca Film Festival are often surprising and fascinating. Below is a rundown of 11 that I have watched this year.

“A Mighty Nice Man” is a black and white narrative based on a Patricia Highsmith story set in a more innocent time – perhaps the 1930’s or 1940’s. Billy Magnussen (“Into the Woods”) plays the well-dressed, good looking, “nice” man who comes upon a couple of young girls and convinces one of them to take a drive with him. While nothing actually happens because the girl’s mother sees them as they drive by, the threat from this “nice” man is very real. Even the mother, however, is charmed by him and does not see the potential for harm. Eerie.

“Body Team 12” is a sobering documentary about the heroes and heroines who collected bodies in Liberia after they died of Ebola. The numbers of the dead there were staggering, and the risk to these workers was great. These people felt, however, that it was their duty to try to get the epidemic under control because the very future of their country depended on it. Truly inspiring. This film won the Festival’s Best Documentary Short Award.

“Last Call” is an only mildly interesting documentary about a New York bartender who took photos of his patrons in the 70’s and 80’s. We see their images, as he mostly tells us what they drank. Only occasionally does he know enough about them to make his voiceover of interest.

Keishawn Butler in "Stop"
Keishawn Butler in “Stop”

“Stop” is a compelling and well-acted narrative about the “everyday” reality of the stop and frisk practices of the NYPD. A young teen is stopped by the cops as he walks home, and they ask to look in his backpack. They frisk him and check his pockets. When they find nothing, they let him go, but the fear on his face is real, even as he has somewhat become accustomed to this regular treatment.

“The Kiss” is one of the few comic shorts I saw – a narrative from Mexico about two platonic friends who try kissing so that the woman can give the man pointers for his upcoming date. They vow to remain just friends, but it shows that emotionless kissing is next to impossible.

“The House is Innocent” is a darkly comic documentary about a couple who buys a home that was once owned by an elderly woman serial killer. There were several bodies once buried in the backyard of the home. The media is so interested in the home and why they would buy it that the couple decides to make the best of it. They put up funny signs and even a mannequin that looks like the murderer, and this lures tourists to see the house.

A still from "Wrapped"
A still from “Wrapped”

“Wrapped” is an interesting no-dialogue commentary on the natural world destroying the man-made world, as the computer-generated images show vegetation growing and covering buildings until they cause an explosion.

“We Live This” is a documentary about the young African American boys who earn their keep dancing on the subways. As they talked about the importance of what they do, I found myself worrying that some of them hold too much hope that their dancing will someday become a valid living.

“Elder” is a documentary about a man looking back at the time when he was a Mormon missionary in Italy, trying very hard to deny his homosexuality. Then, he meets a young Italian man, and the two fall deeply in love. It’s a bittersweet story about the heartbreak of not feeling free to be who you really are.

A still from "The Gnomist"
A still from “The Gnomist”

“The Gnomist” is the most charming of the short films I watched. A documentary set in Overland Park, Kansas, it’s about mysterious structures for fairies that appear in a local park. This captures the imagination of the locals, and it gives many people hope, including a woman whose toddler-aged daughter passed away. When she leaves a note for the fairies in memory of her daughter, a special structure for the little girl appears. Sweet and touching.

“Warning Labels” stars Josh Lawson, a wonderful comic actor from “House of Lies” and “The Wedding Party.” It’s a fun comedy about what it would be like if our dates had warning labels. Would we really pay attention (because don’t they often have warning signs that we ignore)?


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